James Verniere | Movie Critic bostonherald.com, 2019/05/24
«Granted wide and deep access, Meeting Gorbachev is peppered with rarely seen images from Gorbachev’s private archive.»
Meeting Gorbachev plays to filmmaker Werner Herzog's endlessly inquisitive strengths -- and reveals the fascinating story of a pivotal political figure. --Rotten Tomatoes
I can only thank the indefatigable Werner Herzog, 76, for co-directing “Meeting Gorbachev,” a documentary effort obviously made so that the filmmaker, who once circumnavigated Germany on foot to make a case for reunification, could meet one of his idols.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, the eighth and final president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, transformed his country when it was on the ropes agriculturally and economically, and, together with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, brought about an end to the Cold War and, to a great degree, the nuclear arms race.
“Meeting Gorbachev,” which Herzog co-directed with Andre Singer, the producer of Herzog’s “Into the Abyss” and “Into the Inferno,” begins with Herzog narrating the childhood of Gorbachev in a poor, remote farming community in the North Caucasus, where after news of his father’s death in World War II, his father returned from the war, setting the stage for a life full of reversals, not all of them as happy.
Illustrated by archival footage, the film features Herzog and Gorbachev, who was 87 at the time of filming and suffering from diabetes, seated facing one another. Herzog has a scholarly command of modern European history. He speaks in English and occasionally German; Gorbachev in Russian. The translations were apparently edited out, making the interviews seem a bit strange. But it is worth putting up with to see Herzog, who can sneer with the best of them, in obvious awe of a personal hero.
For anyone who has experienced the Cold War and Gorbachev’s warming policies of perestroika and glasnost, “Meeting Gorbachev” is both a backward-looking travelogue, illuminating the period’s highs and lows, and a portrait of a great leader, who was undermined and deposed. Gorbachev is affable throughout, although uncertain how history will judge him.He floats, “We tried,” as an epitaph.
In the film’s moving conclusion, Gorbachev, who lost his wife and university classmate Raisa to leukemia in 1999, quotes from memory “I Go Out On the Road Alone,” a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, the Russian Romantic writer. I defy you not to wipe away a tear.
Alone I set out on the road; The flinty path is sparkling in the mist; The night is still. The desert harks to God, And star with star converses.
The vault is overwhelmed with solemn wonder The earth in cobalt aura sleeps. . . Why do I feel so pained and troubled? What do I harbor: hope, regrets?
I see no hope in years to come, Have no regrets for things gone by. All that I seek is peace and freedom! To lose myself and sleep!
But not the frozen slumber of the grave… I’d like eternal sleep to leave My life force dozing in my breast Gently with my breath to rise and fall;
(“Meeting Gorbachev” contains no objectionable material.) https://www.bostonherald.com/2019/05/24/gorbachev-documentary-illuminates-a-great-leader/
James Verniere | Movie Critic
James Verniere has a master's degree from Rutgers University, where he has taught writing. He is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. His work has appeared in Film Comment, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, Sight and Sound and Heavy Metal Magazine, as well as books published by the National Society of Critics such as "The A List." His essays on "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Chinatown" are in the database of the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
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