MARIANNE & LEONARD: WORDS OF LOVE, UK, 2019. Directed by Nick. Broomfield. 102 minutes. Rated M (Sexual references)
Nick Broomfield is a British documentarist, has been making films for over 40 years, going into trouble spots around the world, focusing on the lives of celebrities including Kurt Cobain, Tupac and Biggie as well as Aileen Wournos.
He is more personally involved in this documentary about Leonard Cohen and his relationship with Marianne Ihren who was something of a muse for him for many decades. Broomfield’s personal interest is that he was on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960 and had a relationship with Marianne, meeting her a number of times over the succeeding decades.
Leonard Cohen lived on the island of Hydra in the first half of the 1960s. He had a relationship with Marianne, a Norwegian with a young son. In many ways the relationship was idyllic. In many ways it was far from idyllic. In fact, so much of this documentary could be considered a Requiem for the permissive past of the 1960s. Cohen was very much in the tradition of sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, although his music was hardly rock ‘n’ roll.
Canadian born, a dominating Jewish mother, Cohen began his career by writing poetry and novels. The novels were considered more than esoteric by many reviewers and shunned by readers. For years Cohen also suffered from depression. The idyllic aspects of his relationship with Marianne encouraged him in those years. The film contains excerpts from Cohen himself but also interviews with Marianne, with a number of friends from the Hydra days, from fellow-musician Richard Cornelius, other artists and managers with the opportunity to reconsider the past.
Cohen was tentative in his initial song but received the encouragement of Judy Collins and he moved to going to festivals like that on the Isle of Wight. By the late 1960s, he had become popular with his style of recitative poetry songs.
While disappearing for weeks with depression, Cohen remained in the atmosphere of the freelove ethos of the 1960s. And, yet, he often returned to stay with Marianne, inviting her to all his concerts. She eventually went back to Norway and remarried, concerned about the son from her first husband, influenced strongly by the ethos of freedom in Hydra and spending a lot of time in an institution.
Audiences will be wondering about Hallelujah and sometime is given in the film to Cohen’s going to the Buddhist monastery outside Los Angeles, spending five years there in Zen contemplation and the ordinary tasks around the monastery, leaving in 1999. He then discovered that his manager had embezzled his money but, in 2009, he began performing concerts again, inviting Marianne to his concert in Oslo where she is filmed in the front row.
The many Cohen fans will be interested in this portrait – but for those not so familiar with him or his songs, he does not emerge as an engaging personality.
Madman Released December 12th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.