An in-depth look at the relationship between the late musician Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.
Director: Nick Broomfield
Stars: Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Helle Goldman
Nick Broomfield’s “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love,” the latest from the veteran documentarian of musicians that include Tupac Shakur, Kurt Cobain, and Whitney Houston. He turns his form here to the life of the legendary Leonard Cohen, but there’s a unique angle that is also distinctly Broomfield-esque. The director often takes some heat for inserting himself into his movies to an exorbitant degree, but it’s organic and forgivable here given he was close to Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, even appearing in some of the archival footage in the film. It’s arguably his most personal film to date, and the most surprising thing may be that it took him this long to make it.
“Marianne & Leonard” is the story of an artist and a muse. Leonard Cohen wrote “So Long, Marianne” and “Bird on a Wire” directly about Marianne Ihlen, the woman he met at a crucial, formative age, and with whom he fell madly in love. They inspired each other on a Greek island called Hydra, a magical place to which Broomfield’s film regularly returns, and a place the filmmaker visited as a young man and spent time with Ihlen, who actually inspired him to make his first film. It was what you’d imagine the life of a young future poet would be on a Greek island—days of writing, drinking, drugs, sex, and sun. And these days formed both the love between Leonard & Marianne, and what would become his voice as an artist.
And then Leonard Cohen became Leonard Cohen. Moving to the States and transforming from an author into a musician with the breakout success of “Suzanne,” Cohen’s star rose while Ihlen stayed in Hydra. They would find other relationships and have largely separate lives, but Broomfield makes the case that they remained each other’s greatest influence, deftly drawing lines from Hydra & Marianne to Leonard’s music & stardom. The movie can be a bit clunky – the talking head interviews are surprisingly mundane, often including the kind of anecdotes that are far more interesting to the subject’s friends than to a stranger – but it has a cumulative emotional power, especially if you love Cohen’s work as much as I do. Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen never found their Hydra again, but they also never really left there, dying three months apart from each other. Nick Broomfield’s film is beautiful testament to their unique relationship and the unique place on which it formed.
– Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com