Meeting Gorbachev

Stranger Says: "Mikhail Sergeyevich, please allow me to explain myself," says Werner Herzog. "I am a German, and the first German that you probably met wanted to kill you." So begins Herzog's affecting documentary about Mikhail Gorbachev, built chiefly around three conversations with the former leader of the Soviet Union—a once-titanic figure who, at age 87, Herzog now describes as "a deeply lonesome man." Particularly given America's current relations with Russia, Meeting Gorbachev feels disarmingly affectionate—"Everything about Gorbachev was genuine," Herzog reflects—but the director never loses his usual clear-eyed gaze. Meeting Gorbachev also offers plenty of historical context, examining events that shaped not only the Soviet Union, but the world: Chernobyl, nuclear disarmament, perestroika and glasnost, an attempted coup, the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. (Since this is a Herzog film, there's also a sequence in which the director tells viewers how to kill garden slugs with open jars of beer.) (ERIK HENRIKSEN)

SIFF Says: To add perspective to his documentary on the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Werner Herzog found the best possible commentator: the man who oversaw it. His conversations with Mikhail Gorbachev, now 88, prove genial, insightful, and utterly absorbing.

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Werner Herzog, André Singer
Werner Herzog, Mikhail Gorbachev