DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Meeting Gorbachev

Director - Werner Herzog, Andre Singer - 2019

"Dirty gem"
The 88-year-old former politician and last leader of the Soviet Union opens up his heart and shares his achievements, tragedies and pains with the German director Werner Herzog - from the Cambridge Film Festival

Werner Herzog opens up his heart to the former Soviet leader: “I love you”. It’s not often that you get to see the kind and affable side of the enfant terrible of German cinema, more widely recognised for his raw and bleak tone. He goes on to explain that his love and gratitude are due to Gorbachev’s role in the reunification of Germany. Then his provocative streak surfaces: “You probably thought the first German you met wanted to kill you”, in reference to WW2 grudges. The avuncular Gorbachev, however, dismisses the claim: “The first German I met was my neighbour, and I have very fond memories of him”. Gorbachev speaks in his native Russian language. Herzog speaks in English. Perhaps the Teutonic tongue doesn’t bring good memories, despite Gorbachev’s insistence that the two nations have since become good friends.

Herzog’s interview with Gorbachev is friendly and relaxed, despite touching on some very difficult topics and open wounds. The conversations are interspersed with archive footage portraying the most significant moments of Gorbachev’s admirable career. Herzog’s admiration for the octogenarian is very real and palpable, making this an unusually and unabashedly romanticised film. This filmic portrayal of Gorbachev is treacly, doused in saccharine. (unlike the sugar-free and diabetic-friendly chocolate cake that Herzog gives him for his 87th birthday).

We learn that Gorbachev was a skilled politician in touch with the working class from a very young age. In the 1960s, he visited peasants in the countryside and helped to implement new shearing mechanisms. This was a far cry from Soviet leaders such as Stalin and Brezhnev, who never mingled with the people and instead preferred to keep a distance, concocting a stern and formidable image. There were other differences. Gorbachev was eloquent and magnanimous. Never before had a Soviet leader circulated so smoothly in West. He was the new face of communism: transparent, democratic and with a profound respect for state of law. He was friendly with both Reagan and Thatcher, who did not conceal their admiration for the Soviet leader.

Meeting Gorbachev is a history class about the Cold War, nuclear disarmament and the demise of the USSR. We watch Reagan and Gorbachev meet during the Reykjavík Summit of 1986, and witness the handshake that helped to rewrite world history and likely avert an eventual nuclear war. We also learn that onus of the destruction of Soviet Union (and the consequent unleashing of unfettered capitalism and neoliberalism) lies with Yeltsin rather than Gorbachev. Tanks and shock doctrine ensured that the communist era came to an end. Russia was electroshocked into a new order.

There were two very painful deaths in the life of Gorbachev: the USSR in 1991 and his lifelong partner Raisa in 1999. He nearly breaks down when asked about them. His face is contorted with pain, a tear about to fall. But he holds himself together in silence. He dreamt of a united USSR and Europe, but sadly such marriage never came to fruition.

Overall, this is an auspicious and effective documentary about a fascinating human being. But as with any highly romanticised movie, it has a few flaws. Meeting Gorbachev quickly mentions in passing that many Russians perceive Gorbachev as a traitor, but it fails to analyse this in more detail. It almost entirely ignores that the fact Gorbachev does not enjoy as much popularity in his home country as he does abroad. It also fails to question: was Gorbachev naive in trusting Reagan and Thatcher? And what about Pope John Paul II, who is often credited with playing a pivotal role in the demise of the USSR? The pontiff is strangely absent from the movie.

Meeting Gorbachev premieres at the Cambridge Film Festival, which takes place between October 17th and 24th. It is out in cinemas across the UK on Friday, November 8th.



"Dirty gem"

By Victor Fraga - 10-10-2019

By Victor Fraga - 10-10-2019

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based writer with more than 15 years of in...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Holidaying in Cambodia with Isaac (Ross McCall), Ben [Read More...]
Fifty years have passed since students joined forces [Read More...]

Read More

Putin’s Witnesses

Vitaly Mansky
2018

Victor Fraga - 22-11-2018

Documentary about Putin's first year in power in 2000 was directed by his personal cinematographer, who now resents being an "accomplice" of the leader he now describes as an "autocrat" - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival [Read More...]

Active Measures

Jack Bryan
2019

Eoghan Lyng - 09-04-2019

Director/co-writer Jack Bryan's film showcases a comprehensive account of Russian interference during the controversial 2016 US presidential elections - now available on VoD [Read More...]

Electroshocking Brazil

 

Victor Fraga - 24-05-2016

The neoliberal agenda of the United States has already electroshocked Chile, Russia and Iraq into chaos. Is Brazil next on the list? - DMovies sheds new light on the documentary 'The Shock Doctrine' [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *