Werner Herzog’s documentary MEETING GORBACHEV is an enlightening insightful little film on his candid conversations with Gorbachev, the former Soviet head of state. Gorbachev was one of the defining figures of the 20th century., a humanitarian and also a very intelligent individual. More respected abroad than he is at home (where many continue to blame him for the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union), Gorbachev speaks like a man with nothing to lose, and Herzog applies his own unique perspective and inimitable narration to a deep archive of footage.
The film opens with Herzog’s last meeting with Gorbachev. He questions him about his impressions of Germans as the Germans devastated the Soviet Union during the war. But Gorbachev has nothing bad to say about anyone, less of all Germans. Gorbachev says tithes first neighbours he visited as a child were Germans and they made great cakes and that anyone that cook bake that delicious a cake has to be good people.
There is a lot that many do not know about Gorbachev, myself included. That is what makes the film more intriguing. Gorbachev comes from a poor family, his uncle and aunt died on the farm from starvation and he was looked after by very kind grandparents. He is revealed to be very diligent and a man who studied hard and worked himself up the ranks in a society that followed old rules and traditions. Obviously the Russian system and government did not work as people were starving and protesting and Gorbachev had to do his thing.
Herzog reveals many outstanding qualities about the subject which pique the film’s interest. Gorbachev is a man who is basically a good person, and one who intends to do good for his fellow man ie. the Soviet Union. Herzog trails how thesis accomplished, through his diligence, his intelligence and through perseverance, despite bureaucratic odds, Soviet Union style.
Herzog has assembled an impressive amount of archive footage, much of it from newsreel, on Gorbachev and also of the Soviet Union under the other leaders before him, tying in his story through voiceover from himself, or the offering his point of view, which often is intelligent, makes much sense and puts his story into perspective,
Herzog is a German director of extreme experience. He has directed classics like FITZCARRALDO, WOYZECK and STROSZEK as well as documentaries like CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS in 3D and INTO THE INFERNO. MEETING GORBACHEV is another impressive documentary from the German Master, that not only reveals the story of a great man, but impresses on the good one ordinary man, rising through the political ranks can do for his fellow man. The film also shows through archive footage, how other politicians like Margaret Thatcher relate and felt about Gorbachev.
Herzog sneaks into his film several messages – his view on nuclear disarmament; desire for peace and harmony for mankind. His images on the dismantling of the Berlin Wall are particularly moving.
MEET GORBACHEV premiered at the Toronto Itrnational Film Festival last year and begins a limited run at the Bell Lightboxthis week. It is the best documentary playing in Toronto at the moment