NZIFF 51: Marianne & Leonard: Words Of Love Director: Nick Broomfield

Get out your hankies! If you’re not wiping away at least a few tears at the end of this meditation on the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his “muse” Marianne Ihlen, then I would serious question your humanity.

The Marianne in question here is indeed the one who inspired Cohen to write So Long, Marianne along with other tunes such as Bird On The Wire.

Before Leonard was a singer/songwriter, he was a writer of poetry and novels. But Nick Broomfield’s film assumes you are already on “Team Leonard” and know all this.

So, we are taken back to the early 1960s when Cohen escaped the harsh Montreal winters for the sun-baked  Greek island of Hydra where he hooked up with the beautiful, blonde Marianne, recently split from her husband and toting a young son.

Their story is told with old archival footage along with the recorded voices of Leonard and Marianne. Even Broomfield works his way into the narrative, as he was friends with the couple at the time, and claims to have had a brief fling with Marianne himself.

But all is not sunshine and lollipops and the hedonistic lifestyle of Hydra turned out to have a dark side fuelled by drug addiction and mental health issues.

We learn that Cohen wrote his novel, Beautiful Losers, while popping pills and dropping acid, while Marianne served him sandwiches and sex. Not surprisingly, the book is considered “incomprehensible”.

Eventually Leonard returns to North America where he meets Judy Collins who encourages him to sing his own songs and from then on, everything changes.

Marianne and her son move to Montreal, but Cohen is a rock star and a ladies’ man and their relationship is doomed.

At this point the focus moves away from Marianne and on to Leonard as we hear from his guitarist, Ron Cornelius and Aviva Layton, the former wife of Cohen’s buddy, fellow Canadian poet Irving Layton.

Aviva’s blunt, but entertaining observations on Cohen and his life at this time are among the most memorable.

Before long, Marianne is lost in the story as Leonard’s career takes him on a journey turns his former muse into a footnote.

But, wonderfully, they did reconnect at the very end, and it’s that last interaction that make this film so poignant and so profound.

Incredibly, despite all of his womanizing and his bad habits, Leonard Cohen comes across as a decent person and a great artist. We do get to know Marianne better, but it would have been nice to find out even more as she seems like she too was an extraordinary person.

But to quote Leonard Cohen, at least “we have the music”.

Marty Duda