Fillmaker Werner Herzog, left, extols the virtues of former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev in the film Meeting Gorbachev, scheduled through May 30, but likely to be held over at The Vic Theatre.

Kathy Kay: The red days of pre-summer prove entertaining

Judi Dench in Red Joan, and documentary Meeting Gorbachev to be held over at The Vic

Ahhh, June. Sorry, I’m going to do a ‘remember when’ for those not born on our beautiful island.

Remember when you’d go to movies in summer because it was the only place to go to get relief from the heat? These days I’m sure big blockbusters take over the cinemas in summer based on hot weather and vacation days. Okay, and perhaps for the odd guy in a costume.

It’s also a great time of year for counter programming – or as some might say – zig when they zag. One can’t get more ziggy than going all out Russian and then topping it off by throwing in major political events and people. Sounds refreshing, yes? Lemonade anyone?

Can one ever get tired of watching Judi Dench? I’m still trying to get over her demise in Skyfall. What were they thinking? Ralph Fiennes is nice but he’s no Dame Dench, though he cuts a mean figure when he’s fencing.

So, what’s on offer to tie Werner Herzog with Mikhail Gorbachev, and Judi Dench with a Russian spy? Movies, of course!

In Red Joan, based on a true story, Dench plays an elderly British woman who spends her days gardening until government agents arrive to arrest her on 27 breeches of the official secrets act. The question becomes who seduced her to communism when she was studying physics at Cambridge? Was it her best friend from Russia or her charismatic paramour or perhaps just her own sense of morality?

The film weaves back and forth between the interrogation (a fabulously nuanced performance by Dench) and her younger, naïve self, played by Sophie Cookson. The film is a fascinating look at a time when the theory of communism was compelling and brings up some interesting questions about who gets designated as traitors once a war is won. We are only the good guys until we are not.

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A leader of New German Cinema which issued the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962 (way before Lars von Trier needed to make a name for himself), Herzog is one of the last members standing along with greats von Trotta, Wenders and Schlöndorff. Herzog regularly puts out fascinating documentaries (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Grizzly Man) that look for the soul of the subject and Meeting Gorbachev is no different.

Herzog’s visit with Gorbachev, the president of the USSR when the Berlin Wall came down, is less about politics than it is about this genial man. Well regarded in the West for being the instrumental force behind de-nuclearization, Gorbachev is derided in his homeland for breaking apart the USSR. Herzog, as seen clearly in the film, considers him one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century.

Both films are expected to be held over past their May 30 end date at The Vic Theatre.

And if you must see something fashionable and quite fun, check out Halston, a look at the designer for Jacqueline Kennedy, Liza Minnelli and even Marlene Dietrich, by the director of Dior and I and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.

Kathy Kay is director of the Victoria Film Festival.

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