Meeting Gorbachev

 

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Werner Herzog meets Mikhail Gorbachev in a work that honours a great Russian.

 
Meeting Gorbachev

Herzog grills Gorbachev

 

Here is a film about history that is particularly welcome today. I say that because seeing it now gives Meeting Gorbachev an impact that it might not have had earlier. In a time when respecting any world leader or any major politician can seem well-nigh impossible, Werner Herzog finds one that we can all admire. In point of fact the directorial credit for this film goes to André Singer as well as to Herzog but, with the latter having the writing credit and acting as narrator and interviewer in his usual idiosyncratic way, this is every inch a Herzog film.

 

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, was eighty-seven years old when he took part in the interview that is central to this film. Interspersed with this we have archive footage as Herzog in voice over reflects on Russian history pertinent to Gorbachev’s life and fills us in on his humble beginnings. In addition we hear at appropriate moments from a range of contributors including Miklós Németh who was Prime Minister of Hungary between 1988 and 1999 and two U.S. Secretaries of State, George P. Shultz and James A. Baker III. This is all helpful both as a reminder of the history and as a way of revealing how Gorbachev was seen by others, but nevertheless the most memorable footage is that of Gorbachev replying to Herzog’s questions.

 

It quickly becomes clear that Herzog admires Gorbachev as the one Soviet leader of the 20th century who wanted to achieve friendly relations with other countries. To that end, he played a key role in fostering agreements to reduce nuclear weapons and, as part of a complete restructuring in his own country, brought in glasnost and perestroika. The fall of the Berlin Wall would also come about before his presidential role was cut short by a power struggle. Very neatly indeed Herzog kicks off with footage from the interview in which Gorbachev surprises him by rejecting the notion that he might well have hatred for the Germans given their history. The unexpected reply could have been an example of soft-soaping his interrogator, but Herzog immediately voices his momentary suspicion of that before assuring us that he came to believe that Gorbachev’s comments were all totally honest.

 

In the event we don’t need to rely on that reassurance because that is how Gorbachev comes across to us too, a sane man in an insane world whose belief in international concord and whose dismay over Trump’s wish to build up a nuclear arsenal reflect the man he has always been. Herzog’s personality may be stamped on this film but so is Gorbachev’s and, even if this is a work that would be perfectly at home on a TV screen, Meeting Gorbachev is self-evidently a document of undoubted historical value.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Mikhail Gorbachev, Werner Herzog, Miklós Németh, George Shultz, James Baker, Lech Walesa, Horst Teltschik.

 

Dir Werner Herzog and André Singer, Pro Svetlana Palmer, Screenplay Werner Herzog, Ph Yuri Burak, Ed Michael Ellis, Music Nicholas Singer.

 

Werner Herzog Filmproduktion-Altitude Film Entertainment.
91 mins. UK/Germany/USA. 2018. Rel: 8 November 2019. Cert. PG.