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Film Reviews Documentary Marianne & Leonard is a love letter to a complicated relationship

Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen from the documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.

Aviva Layton/Courtesy of Roadside Attractions / Elevation Pictures

  • Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
  • Directed by Nick Broomfield
  • Starring Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen
  • Classification: PG; 102 minutes

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If she was such a great muse, why was the most famous song written about her by Leonard Cohen a breakup ballad, So Long, Marianne? It’s complicated. As was the relationship between Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, his sun-kissed Norwegian lover on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.

The documentary adoringly examines the relationship between Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, his sun-kissed Norwegian lover on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.

Babis Mores/Courtesy of Roadside Attractions / Elevation Pictures

With a softened lens, British documentarian Nick Broomfield adoringly examines a fascinating relationship in a fascinating time that saw Cohen transition from a poet to a world-class songwriter. Previously unviewed footage of Marianne from the vault of D.A. Pennebaker is employed, as are the recollections of people such as a member of Cohen’s band, folk singer Judy Collins, and one female friend who observed that Cohen “could make women feel good about themselves, but he couldn’t give himself to them.”

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We learn that Cohen gobbled acid and was more dedicated to his own internal artistic muse than he was to his female flesh-and-blood one. The film ends with a narrated version of Cohen’s last letter to Marianne before they died within months of each other in 2016. Fittingly, given that the film from Broomfield (who was also a former lover of Marianne’s) is nothing if not a love letter itself. So long, Marianne. So long, Leonard.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love opens in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on July 12, before expanding across Canada.

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