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film review

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

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

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.”

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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