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'Meeting Gorbachev' review: Werner Herzog's mastery of the interview on display

The documentarian sits down with the last Soviet leader.

A scene from "Meeting Gorbachev."

A scene from "Meeting Gorbachev." Photo Credit: THE ORCHARD

'Meeting Gorbachev'

Documentary directed by Werner Herzog, André Singer

Not Rated

Playing at Film Forum

Werner Herzog is such a monumentally significant filmmaker, with such a distinct aesthetic and perspective, that it's possible to lose sight of just how good he is at the art of interviewing. 

"Meeting Gorbachev," in which Herzog sits down with Mikhail Gorbachev for a look back at his remarkable life, offers a firm reminder of the fact that beyond the cosmic ruminations and impossible dreamers that characterize so much of his documentary work, there is a man with a gift for bringing his subjects to a new and illuminating place.

The movie, codirected by Herzog and André Singer, is structured around three meetings between the "Grizzly Man" director and the last Soviet premier.

In Gorbachev's own words, with the added benefit of the filmmaker's inimitable narration and an abundance of period footage, the picture charts the improbable rise to power of a man from the remote Caucasus region who recognized the need for the sort of sweeping reform that would bring the Soviet Union to its end.

While the file clips are illuminating and well-edited, especially a montage lasting no more than a few minutes that expertly illustrates the deaths and leadership chaos that led to Gorbachev's ascension in 1985, the movie is best regarded as an extended conversation, in which Herzog gently but firmly prods this giant of world history to meaningful revelations.

A better and more interesting film might have resulted had Gorbachev, who coined the concept of the Common European Home and believed in the ties between the Russian people and the continent, offered his perspective on current geopolitical strife.

But the story of his life is told in the long silences, the heavy pauses, the weary sighs and subtle gestures that Herzog provokes and the movie stands as a necessary and important work because of it.

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