Nick Holdsworth
Journalist, writer, author, filmmaker and film and TV industry expert – Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

Meeting Gorbachev is an intimate and engaging portrait of the man who unwittingly prompted the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Meeting Gorbachev, German director Werner Herzog and British producer Andre Singer, offer a rare glimpse into the private world of Mikhail Gorbachev.

In a series of interviews with Gorbachev who, though increasingly physically frail retains his sharp wit and acute intellect, Herzog charts the life of a man he accurately describes as «one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century».

Sharp and humorous

Once daily in the spotlight of international attention, Gorbachev, now aged 87, reveals that he has lost none of his characteristic humour and humanity. Herzog is quick to establish this, with footage that includes material normally left on the cutting room floor. There is the humorous quip he makes to the Russian sound-man putting his microphone on («He’s trying to take something from my pocket!»), and Gorbachev’s recollection of a pre-war meeting with ethnic Germans at a neighbouring kolkhoz (collective farm) as a boy, who made marvellous gingerbread – leaving him with a lifelong positive impression of the Germans. And for the cognoscenti, a brief glimpse early in the film of Pavel Palazhchenko, the interpreter who has worked with him since the 1980s, a ubiquitous presence at such historic events as the Reagan-Gorbachev strategic nuclear arms reduction agreements.

Herzog wonders aloud if Gorbachev is merely being polite, but concludes he is genuinely a decent bloke.

Herzog, himself now 76 and with a reputation for some pretty extreme filmmaking, presents a very loving work about a man who had a profound impact on the fate of his own nation.

From the middle of nowhere

Narrated throughout by Herzog himself, in his carefully enunciated rather hoarse German-accented English, Meeting Gorbachev hovers on the edges of hagiography. It segues from footage of Gorbachev being presented with a box of sugar-free chocolates by the filmmakers (specially made by a «London chocolatier» Herzog tells us), to shots of the family graveyard at the collective farm. During aerial footage of the village of Gorbachev’s birth, he observes, «it is hard to imagine that from such a god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere, one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century emerged.»

«Granted wide and deep access, Meeting Gorbachev is peppered with rarely seen images from Gorbachev’s private archive.»

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