Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (4 stars)

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Melancholy valentine to the love story between Leonard Cohen and muse Marianne Ihlen

Marianne Ihlen may have been the great love of Leonard Cohen's life. There was plenty of competition. The sun-bleached Norwegian muse of his hedonistic 1960s Greek idyll remained a fond ally as they both faced death half a century later. Their relationship directly inspired the songs 'So Long, Marianne' and 'Bird on the Wire'. Veteran British documentarian Nick Broomfield also knew Ihlen back in the day and his Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is a melancholy valentine to this love story and the times in which it flourished.

There is a bittersweet quality to Broomfield's film as he celebrates the sexual and creative freedom of the 60s but also commemorates its casualties. Those who suffered most were often the children, especially Marianne's son Axel, and there are enough tales of misery, madness and suicide to counteract any notion that life on the Greek island of Hydra was all sunshine and smiles.

Broomfield blends together a rich abundance of sometimes familiar archive material, with fresh interviews with Judy Collins, Julie Felix, guitarist Ron Cornelius, close friend Aviva Layton and others to create a sense of what the couple meant to each other. Marianne is admired for her nurturing, supportive instincts, whilst the charming, complex and eternally restless Cohen was an obsessive womaniser who found his voice as a writer and singer largely thanks to Marianne.

The film moves beyond the end of their affair to give some sense of Cohen's later career and Marianne's desire to live a more conventional life. Left penniless by a crooked manager, Cohen toured the world in his seventies and there is touching footage of an Oslo concert with Marianne in the front row seat that he had arranged. Essential viewing for Cohen fans, this is a poignant elegy for love and loss.

Selected release from Fri 26 Jul.

Marianne & Leonard: Words Of Love

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • USA
  • 1h 42min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Nick Broomfield

Documentary about the love affair between Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, and how their 1960s Greek idyll helped turn him into the musician he became. It’s bittersweet but not without a darker side, noting the casualties of the time, and there’s a mixture of archive material with fresh interviews. A poignant elegy for…