- Allan Hunter
- 4 November 2019
Werner Herzog chats to the titular politician in this fascinating and touching documentary
Mikhail Gorbachev feels like a leader from a bygone age. He flourished in a time when divisive walls could fall, ruthless dictators might be toppled and nations around the world allowed themselves the gift of hope. There is the suggestion that he is the ghost of politics past in Meeting Gorbachev, a fascinating, often touching documentary culled from three interviews conducted over a six-month period.
Co-director Werner Herzog clearly regards Gorbachev with admiration. There is a sense of deference in their conversations. It is left to others, like Lech Walesa, to provide a more critical view of Gorbachev. The film, from Herzog and Andre Singer, is relatively gentle and straightforward in its combination of talking heads and archive footage. The archive material is exceptional, tracing Gorbachev's rise through the ranks of the Communist party, his time as President of the USSR and the toughest challenges of his period in office – from the catastrophe of Chernobyl, to the pursuit of perestroika, and the unexpectedly fruitful relationships with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
Gorbachev was 87 when these interviews were recorded. He is still a formidable figure: genial, but steely in his determination to steer the conversation. He is also a harsh judge of his own achievements and failings. He laments his inability to create a more democratic and stable Russia. It is clear he sees Putin's lengthy reign as a repudiation of everything he tried to build. The most moving element of the film is Gorbachev's abiding love for his wife Raisa and the profound sense of loss that he has felt since her death 20 years ago.
Meeting Gorbachev is a valuable encounter with someone who operated on the frontline of politics with a sense of honour and the best of intentions. It is also a reminder that even the greatest of leaders is only human.
Limited release from Fri 8 Nov.