November 08, 2019
The great director quizzes the former USSR leader in a grandly presented documentary that fails to address the Putin question
Meeting Gorbachev review – Werner Herzog pulls his punches
Werner Herzog shares a co-directing credit with British documentarist André Singer here, but really this is Herzog’s show, a self-consciously grand head-to-head between the great director and the great historical figure. Despite the film’s obvious interest, it is a bit conceited and stately, a little like Wim Wenders’ movie about Pope Francis, though without the sycophancy. Or almost. This is Herzog’s encounter with Mikhail Gorbachev, the former USSR president and the last great figure from the end of the cold war, now that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are no longer with us.
The last time Gorbachev appeared on screen was in the recent terrifying TV drama Chernobyl, played by the Swedish actor David Dencik, as an enigmatic, enclosed figure, and perhaps many of the audience assumed he was no longer alive – but alive he very much is at the age of 88, a little debilitated by diabetes but perfectly lucid and alert, responding to Herzog’s questions in English through a translation in his earpiece. It is also bracing to see some of the other veterans interviewed here, also vigorously still alive: George Schultz and James Baker from Reagan’s cabinet and the great Polish leader Lech Wałęsa.
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