Cinema Review: Meeting Gorbachev

Posted November 6, 2019 in Cinema Reviews

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Meeting Gorbachev

Director: Werner Herzog

Release: 8 November

The idea of a well meaning Russian president who was pushing for communist reform and nuclear disarmament might seem like fiction to a certain generation, but once upon a time he actually existed. 

Born to a poor farming family, Gorbachev would scale the political ladder of the Communist party to become the General Secretary and then President of the Soviet Union, all the while promoting his preferences for anti-stalinist reforms, with an eventual lean towards social democracy. A man with an eye on the long game, he favoured a close relationship with Reagan’s America and a unity with Europe, a vision he called the ‘Common European Home.’ His stance on political transparency and economic restructuring aligned with his dogged stance on the abandonment of nuclear weaponry heralded not only the reunification of Germany but also put an end to the Cold War.

Werner Herzog, with his unmistakable thick German accent and that peculiar way he has of carefully pronouncing English words, plays not only narrator here but also interviewer. Sitting across from him, Gorbachev looks his years but is crystal clear when rewinding back time and scrutinising the political machine. Both talk amicably back and forth, each occasionally fiddling with their in-ear translators and Herzog allows brief lulls in conversation for the 88-year-old to process and answer. Gorbachev is forthright and honest, often taking his time, often leaning in when stressing a point. It’s an engaging set-up.

We are under no illusions here; Herzog deeply admires the man and hence the questions are mannered and safe in their prodding. There are a few golden nuggets of information to do with Gorbachev’s wife, Margaret Thatcher, the Reykjavík Summit and the full story behind his unfortunately short tenure as president, with Yeltsin waiting in the wings. But as curious as Herzog always is, it’s a pity he never throws Putin’s name into the ring. Regardless, Meeting Gorbachev is a fascinating and humanising portrayal of a pivotal figure in world history.

Words: Shane O’Reilly


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