(Dir. Nick Broomfield, 2019)
This is a quite touching treatise on the on again off again relationship between iconic poet/singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his lover/muse, Marianne Ihlen (the subject of Cohen’s classic “So Long, Marianne”).
It’s also the best film yet by documentarian Nick Broomfield, who, in some of his films (AILEEN WUORNOS, KURT & COURTNEY, BIGGIE & TUPAK) has come off as a twit.
Not here, however, as he tenderly relays the Norwegian Marianne and the Canadian Leonard meeting on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, and how they immediately hit it off. This is offset by Broomfield revealing that “for a short while, I became one of her [Marianne’s] lovers.”
Marriane and Leonard lived together for a bit, each feeding off the other’s self conscious souls. Leonard began as a writer, an aspiring novelist, but didn’t really make his mark until Judy Collins recorded his song “Suzanne.” Collins persuaded him to overcome his stage fright and get onstage, and then, as Collins says, “He was off to the races, Columbia signed him up, and was his label forever.”
Meanwhile Marianne deals with depression, loneliness, until she gets a telegram from Leonard requesting she come to him with her son to the Montreal. From there, they live in New York as Leonard’s star rises as we see via 1970 footage from the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, and the legendary Isle of Wight Festival.
We also get some anecdotal evidence as to how much of a ladies’ man Leonard was in the ‘70s, while he still spent time with Marianne, and Suzanne Verdal, who inspired the aforementioned song of the same name.
If it seems as though I’m spending more time on Leonard than Marianne, it’s because that’s what Broomfield does. Marianne seems to whittle away years in Hydra, which is depicted throughout the film home movie-style as a beautiful seaside and mountainside village, before she decides to go back home to Oslo, Norway, and begin a normal life.
Leonard goes into a monestary at the Mount Baldy Zen Center in California from 1994-1999, but comes back to find that his trusted manager had embezzled millions from him and he was broke. This made Leonard get back on stage to again make a living and the shows were rousing successes (I saw him in Durham, NC, in 2009 and he was magnificent).
Despite the couple’s imbalance, the film’s focus is on their relationship and ends on a poignant note pertaining to Leonard’s last love letter to Marianne received on her death bed in 2016; Leonard would pass three months later.
MARIANNE & LEONARD is as moving as a documentary can get. It’s not as poetic as the troubled people it portrays but it gets awful close to their discomfort in making love last. By putting forth his most personal story yet, Bloomfield seems closer to his subjects than in any of his previous works.