MOVIE: MEETING GORBACHEV
STARRING: MIKHAIL GORBACHEV; WERNER HERZOG
DIRECTED BY: WERNER HERZOG; ANDRE SINGER
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
If you have not watched many or any of Werner Herzog's documentaries, I highly recommend that you get on that. I'm not even entirely sure where you should start. My first experience was with Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which is a film that is equal to a religious experience. A peaceful escape to a frozen tundra in Siberia, with Herzog's booming, thick German accent narrating the footage, guiding us through a place where some of us may never go. That experience tends to repeat itself for all of the directors films, and in Meeting Gorbachev, Herzog sits down with the former leader of the Soviet Union- Mikhail Gorbachev, describes a bit of his background, digs into the struggles of the Cold War, the destruction of Chernobyl, and shows us a view of a man who has lived a long life. Meeting Gorbachev is a poignant brush with the past and our history today.
I can't say I was the right audience member for this film- I was the ages 1 to 7 during Gorbachev's tenure, but I do like to consider myself as a person that appreciates world history, and I specifically love to inform myself of the past. When it involves Werner Herzog, who directed this film with the help of Andre Singer, I'm even more on board. I learned about the Fitzcarraldo director from Roger Ebert, and without the legendary film critic, I may have always deprived myself of this cinema legends work. His films, especially documentaries, are a measured approach. The camera is his eye, the subject is for us to read, learn about, and his direction is placed on a peaceful pallet. Meeting Gorbachev is not a scolding, swaying, or judgement of this man. It is a focus, a chance for us to see what life can give and take from a political leader.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the last president of the Soviet Union, often recognized for his wine-stain birth mark on his head. More importantly, however, he is the leader that helped end the cold war with the United States, and oversaw the fall of the Berlin wall. To say that he is a good man or was a strong leader, is not really my place to say. What Meeting Gorbachev did reveal, was that he was a man trying for peace. He had productive relationships with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H. W. Bush, and is a big believer that nuclear weapons are not needed for peace. Herzog never pressures, always willing to listen, and leaves his ego at the door with his subject. It works well, because Gorbachev keeps his ego in check as well. This documentary reveals a man who was betrayed by those around him, viewed as a threat to those who sought power, and continues to love his late wife with every fiber of his being. Gorbachev certainly reveals his human side here.
One of the important things I wanted to express is how measured the direction of Meeting Gorbachev is. The balance between the interview, footage of past events, narrating, and factual information is flawless, in fact, one of the films major issues is it's not long enough. I left wanting much more about this man. How he views politics today? Does he think the world is worse or better after the fall of the USSR? Unlike other directors- specifically Oliver Stone, who has interviewed both Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro- Herzog does not care to insert himself into this story. I have found all of Oliver Stone's documentaries about dictators to mistake measured respect, for pathetic sucking up. Tyrannical dictators that have murdered journalists, forced their people to think certain ways, is not someone that deserves respect.
And what have I said about Meeting Gorbachev? Not much that you can't understand from the get go. This is a documentary interviewing Mikail Gorbachev today. It is an important film for us, giving audiences a glimpse into a world where political leaders got along for the good of their countries, not for the good of their press clippings. There is a lot that today's political leader can learn from Meeting Gorbachev. Sadly, he just might be the last of the honorable ones.
Meeting Gorbachev opens at the Music Box Theatre this weekend with Werner Herzog in person.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady