Film Review: MEETING GORBACHEV (USA/Germany/UK 2018) ***1/2

Meeting Gorbachev Poster

The life of Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and final President of the Soviet Union in chronological order.


Werner HerzogAndré Singer (as Andre Singer)

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



1977 Movie Review: STROSZEK, 1977


Movie Reviews

Directed by Werner Herzog
Starring: Bruno S., Eva Mattes, Clemens Scheitz, Wilhelm von Homburg, Burkhard Driest, Clayton Szalpinski
Review by Jordan Young


In Berlin, an alcoholic man, recently released from prison, joins his elderly friend and a prostitute in a determined dream to leave Germany and seek a better life in Wisconsin.


Herzog continues to blow minds of the viewer’s of 1977’s Stroszek. This film depicts three pariah’s in their native Berlin, and their overseas quest to find happiness in Plainfield, Wisconsin. The pariah’s include a prostitute (Eva), a ex-con alcoholic (the titular character Bruno Stroszek) and an old, reclusive, brittle Scheitz.

Roger Ebert wrote that this film is “one of the oddest films evermade.” This is because of it’s seemingly non sequitur segments,jarring examples of music, and it’s drastic setting changes. Not to mention that this is almost cinema en plein air, meaning this entire film is comprised of found people and places that add dramatically to the overall feel of the movie.

Bruno himself was a street musician, found by Herzog, Bruno was also a diagnosed schizophrenic… which apparently added to his troubled character due to his magnificent performance. I found myself however, sympathizing with the character of Eva much more in the beginning. She goes through some pretty miserable times, but then seems to adjust rather well to American life.

Bruno and his pack of friends quickly realize that the American dream, is just that… a dream. This reality arrives to them at the exact same time that the banker starts pestering them about their mortgage payments. This banker again was found by Herzog, but his character is just miserly enough, to make any viewer want to punch him in the face.

As Scott McCloud theorizes in Understanding Comics, no non sequitur is actually in fact a non sequitur. The fun part is about these scenes in Stroszek is, any meaning that you can create from these scenes, is the correct answer… it’s what you take from it. Therein lies, the genius of Herzog, the readers (or viewers) create their meaning. DON’T BELIEVE ANY CRITIC ABOUT THE CHICKEN SCENE! Let the chicken mean what you want it to mean. (You will know what I’m talking about.)

See this movie for Bruno’s magnificent performance, as he takes you off the beaten path of the typical character you have to love, and sets you up for his endearing depiction of a man trying to earnestly find happiness.

Very touching view of the struggles that we all go through. My belief is that Herzog tried to depict how utterly confounding life can be at any given point and time. Except where a mainstream director shows a tough life through a montage and a stereotypical song, Herzog shows a side of America we wish we could distance ourselves from. Keep in mind viewer, this is German Art House film. It will be a challenging, but extremely rewarding experience.


Happy Birthday: Werner Herzog

wernerherzog.jpgWerner Herzog

Born: September 5, 1942 in Munich, Bavaria, Germany

Coincidences always happen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination and who are slaves of a matrix… If you get used to planning your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from kitsch.

dir. Werner Herzog
Michael Shannon
Willem Dafoe
Aguirre: Wrath of GodAguirre: Wrath of God
dir. Herzog
Klaus Kinski
Helena Rojo
THE ENIGMA OF KASPER HAUSEThe Enigma of Kasper Hauser
dir. Werner Herzog
Bruno S., Walter Ladengast
Brigitte Mira
dir. Herzog
Bruno S.
Eva Mattes
dir. Christopher McQuarrie
Tom Cruise
Rosamund Pike
dir. Werner Herzog
Werner Herzog
dir. Hayao Miyazaki
Emily Blunt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
dir. Werner Herzog
Christian Bale
Steve Zahn