I have long been a fan of the late great poet/singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen so I was looking forward to seeing Nick Broomfield's new documentary Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love (released July 26) but in the event it proved to be a major disappointment.
The film charts the tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen. Their love began on the idyllic Greek island of Hydra in 1960 as part of a bohemian community of foreign artists, writers and musicians. The film follows their relationship from the early days on Hydra, a time of 'free love' and open marriage, to how their love evolved when Leonard became a successful musician.
It was on Hydra in 1968 that Broomfield, then aged 20, first met Marianne, who introduced him to Leonard Cohen's music and also encouraged him to make his first film and was a big influence on him. The film follows the highs and lows of Leonard's career and the inspirational power that Marianne possessed. Ironically Marianne and Leonard died three months apart.
The film may be a labour of love but it is also a lopsided portrait. It is composed of archive footage, home movies, talking heads and the posthumous commentary of Ihlen and Cohen. Furthermore scrappy direction slows the pace and interviewees are given too much times to shuffle and stare at the camera.
Ihlen is said to be the woman who inspired the songs So Long Marianne and Bird on the Wire but we only get concert snippets of the songs, rather than full renderings–how could they have omitted his most memorable number Hallelujah!?–as well as druggy backstage japes that tell us nothing about the bittersweet relationship between these two artists. I suppose, though, hearing excerpts from Cohen's songs and selections of his poetry is better than nothing.
The idea of an artist and his muse may sound romantic and has been a major feature of great art, music and literature through the generations but this movie tells us nothing we don't already know.
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love
In selected cinemas from Friday 26 July.
Last modified: July 25, 2019