As a Werner Herzog über-fan, I’m always excited by the opportunity to watch anything he’s involved with, since he usually has a thoughtful and thought provoking view of the world. So when I heard about this film where he sits down with Mikhail Gorbachev, I wondered what kind of strange spin he might put on Cold War political history. Meeting Gorbachev is a series of three sit-down interviews Herzog had with Gorbachev over a period of six months. And those friendly chats between two fascinating people offer some decidedly pointed takes on the history of the fall of the USSR and a timely perspective on world leadership and the danger of what Gorbachev calls “reckless politicians.” It’s a simple and straight forward documentary, intercutting the interviews with archival footage from the time they’re discussing, but it has that Herzogian tone that’s just a little off kilter and keeps you glued to the screen.
Werner and Michael are birds of a feather – iconoclasts – who get each other. I can’t imagine the same kind of discussion with any other two people. Gorbachev was the architect of the end of the Cold War and collaterally the Soviet Union. He had a great vision, but it didn’t go exactly the way he planned. He understood that the system was doomed to fail and shepherded in a new order with peristroika reforms and his glasnost (openness) policies. Unfortunately, he was blindsided by a coup attempt and by his former ally Yeltsin, and he did not get to fulfill his dreams of a better more democratic USSR. It’s this story that Meeting Gorbachev tells, the philosophical beliefs that were instrumental in bringing the Cold War to a close, along with his personal story and some of his views on the current state of world politics. (He’s no Putin fan, though the name is never mentioned.) You may not learn a lot if you were a student of history or lived through those times, but you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation of last leader of the Soviet Union and wishing there were more leaders like him in our current political climate.