Acclaimed German film director Werner Herzog talks about his most recent film Meeting Gorbachev, while also warning against trying to articulate the truth in precise terms.

Sevara Pan
Sevara Pan
Sevara Pan is a journalist and film critic.
Published date: February 10, 2019

The 2018 DOK Leipzig festival held a homage to the work of Werner Herzog, who perhaps needs no introduction. He has been described as one of the most influential German filmmakers of the present time and boasts a prolific career as a director. At the 2018 DOK Leipzig festival, Herzog not only presented his new film Meeting Gorbachev, but also shared his insights during a special talk dubbed Ecstatic Truths. (See the interview here).

Meeting Gorbachev by Werner Herzog, André Singer

The discussion of Herzog’s most recent documentary Meeting Gorbachev naturally took centre stage in the talk with Kristina Jaspers, the curator of the homage. During their conversation, Herzog appeared to show no desire to hide what some have called his «disappointingly warm» regard for the former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The filmmaker praised the retired politician for his «integrity» and «long-term vision», noting that Gorbachev saw «things on his radar that are still intact today, like the Arms Reduction Treaty.»

Contrary to the popular anti-Russia sentiment palpable in Western media today, there seemed to be little hostility to the country in Herzog’s words. The director openly denounced the «demonisation» of Russia, which he stated as «utterly wrong», and expressed hope that the two won’t lapse back into «a new form of Cold War.» «Russia is a more natural and long-term ally to the West than, for example, China or Pakistan, India or Brazil,» he said.

Meeting Gorbachev is a portrayal of the Russian politician and his agenda and vision. But beyond and above the politics, Herzog intended to «look into the heart of this man.» In the documentary, we are shown another side of Gorbachev, as he reminisces about his late wife, whom he still dearly misses to this day.

«Russia is a more natural and long-term ally to the West than, for example, China or Pakistan, India or Brazil.»

Apart from being a man of poetry, Herzog is also a funny man. There is a hint of black humour in Meeting Gorbachev, as the film cuts in quick succession between epic funerals of the Soviet general secretaries following the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982. However, the black humour does not seem to lessen the gravity of the film. If anything, the comic part only draws attention to life’s irony and the numerous fiascos of the men of the bygone era.

Finding truth beyond the factual


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