January 13, 2020  (Web Review)

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Lionsgate, 101 min., R, DVD: $24.99, Oct. 15

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Documentarian Nick Broomfield brings a fresh perspective to the life of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), concentrating on the latter’s relationship with Marianne Ihlen. In terms of footage, Cohen still takes pride of place, with much of the running time devoted to his early years in Canada and later musical career. But Ihlen is portrayed as Cohen’s earliest muse, and the film closes with his final message to her as she lay near death. Broomfield’s own experiences allow him intimate access: in 1968, he visited the Aegean island of Hydra, where among a small community of artists he met Ihlen, who advised him to become a filmmaker—just as nearly a decade earlier she had prodded Cohen, the would-be novelist she was then living with, to take up songwriting. Eventually Cohen returned to Canada and began his career as a performer, and while Ihlen followed him, they never resumed their old closeness, although they remained in contact over the decades. Even though Cohen saw Ihlen less and less, he refers to her in concert footage, and their relationship was reflected in Cohen’s song “So Long, Marianne.” Using his own knowledge, clips from footage that filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker shot when he met Ihlen on Hydra in 1967, and other archival material, Bloomfield fashions a mini-biography of Ihlen to accompany his longer one of Cohen. A penetrating addition to the growing biographical data on an artist who has become a cult figure, this is recommended. (F. Swietek)