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Werner Herzogís latest documentary presents an enticing and sympathetic perspective on the life & work of the Soviet Unionís last leader.

Meeting Gorbachev

Director: Werner Herzog , Chapter , December 1, 2019
Meeting Gorbachev by Director: Werner Herzog 90mins | Documentary | PG

The star of Werner Herzog has only been on the rise. His voice over work in Rick & Morty, The Penguins of Madagascar and Boondocks have made his luscious, German accent famous. More recently seen in the Star Wars vehicle The Mandalorian, heís also made time to do another pleasing documentary, thus continuing his journey into the medium, his dramatic film canon becoming something of the past (Aguirre, the Wrath of God is his undisputed masterpiece, back from the early 1970s).

Spanning a whole year, telling interviews with Mikhail Gorbachev makes plain and clear his aspirations and successes, leading to his eventual position of President of the U.S.S.R. What we see is a man, highly respected for his international peace time exploits (expect the usual footage of Regan and Thatcher) and his humble begins only reaffirms this admiration. The love of his now deceased wife, also halts the film for an unexpected, emotional encounter. Along with this, his journey to head office is blighted with frequent deaths. As we see these major Soviet figures drop off, we are witness to their grandiose, open casket funerals. Every time we see this footage, Chopinís Funeral March, here for brass plays in an interpretation tinged with Russian inflections. It almost becomes comical the more we hear it.

Through his deadpan Voice of God narration, Herzogís joyously dry humour is never far away. A diabetic-friendly chocolate gift for the ex-leader found a letter from his name had fallen off the decorations. An East German newscast remained clueless about the falling of the Iron Curtain, as a bulletin about slugs drinking beer held focus. Certainly two amusing highlights. The film maker does not shy away from being German, though Gorbachev points out the first Germans he met where friendly sweet shop owners who made fine gingerbread in his childhood village, one of many nostalgic trips in the documentary.

There are many questions that could be proposed to Gorbachev today. Perhaps the most illuminating moments here concern his resignation as the last President of the U.S.S.R. Did his faith in reforming Communism wrap up his political career? It would seem so, though some now regard him as a traitor (an unjust phrase). He defends his corner on screen with vigour, telling Herzog of his convictions and what he could have continued for the country (as other leaders from the time now disregard him in additional interviews). But with the fall of the Berlin Wall, other politicians keen to smoke him out of office and other domino effects in Europe, fate appeared to lead him to one choice. Even for his televised resignation he declares before airing that he will not sign on the dotted line live and flippantly does so before heís on air. A final moment of rebellion, admirable in some respects.

Also, The Guardian review spoke of why the film didnítouch upon the Putin question, but itís not about the current Russian leader. Though we do get a fleeting view of Putin at one of these absurd funerals, an alarming sight and a worry of things to come.

Rating: 4 stars

Meeting Gorbachev is now in cinemas nationwide.

Photo Credit: Variety

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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