Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Filmmaker Nick Broomfield has set out on an odyssey in detailing the tricky relationship between famed musician Leonard Cohen, and his 1960s lover and muse Marianne Ihlen. The documentary delves knowingly into the subject matter, and Broomfield knows what he’s preaching, but “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” scarcely digs deep enough into both sides of the equation.
Broomfield, whose extensive filmography consists of studies on Tupac Shakur and Whitney Houston, peppers his film with gorgeous texture and archival footage to help transport the viewer to a much simpler time, including the intoxicating flair of the Greek island of Hydra. The British filmmaker spends a good chunk of the film interviewing subjects surrounding Marianne and Leonard, but - for someone like me who doesn’t necessarily know the full Cohen backstory - the uneven and run-of-the-mill doc struggles to present the whole picture. Perhaps that’s a good thing, considering I did feel inspired after the film to do some research on the two principles and was surprised at how dense and extensive their relationship was.
In his youth, Cohen, born in Montreal, was on an expedition through Europe when he met the Norwegian born Marianne on Hydra, which at the time was known for its allure among international artist and, not so secretly, druggies. It was the time of free love and open marriages, but it was no secret how Leonard felt about women: “I can’t wait till woman take over” he would often say, and he treated his muse with that same respect and mentality. If only he could see the world today.
Their courtship makes for a terrific love story, but when Cohen - after unsuccessfully launching a novel entitled “Beautiful Loser” in 1966 - turned his attention to music, the two started to grow further and further apart - until, eventually, there was nothing left to salvage. As one subject states in the doc “nobody can be with Leonard” - suggesting it was inevitable the two would flame out.
Yet Cohen would often do anything he could to escape the confines of reality, and Broomfield relies heavily on Judy Collins (who first recorded his song “Suzanne” in 1966) to help the audience grasp Cohen’s transition from author to songwriter overnight. Though it didn’t come without complications, as Broomfield shines a light on Cohen’s many uncertainties, which were both endearing and shocking (I suspect most Cohen fans - if they don’t already know - will find it interesting to see their beloved musician suffered his fair share of insecurities). But in the process the film drops the ball on the fragile Marianne who disappears for a solid chunk of the film, only to return for one final hurrah in the last scene.
Despite all that, “Marianne & Leonard” is a welcome addition to the expanding film library of musical subjects, especially as the picture showcases Cohen’s stint at a Buddhist monastery in California from 1994-99 as well as the many sexual and backstage escapades that took place throughout his career.
Still, at the end of the day, no matter where he was or what show was being performed, you can tell Marianne had a profound and lasting impact on his soul. That impact would last all the way up until his death in 2016, in which him and Marianne left this world three months apart from the other. I can only hope the two are happy and together again.