Documentary maker Nick Broomfield returns with a story about singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and the “muse” and inspiration for many of his songs, Marianne Ihlen.
... both are inextricably linked to each other, whilst being tenderly distant.
Moving to the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, New Yorker Leonard Cohen joins the other beautiful losers adrift on its idyllic shores. A creative community that consumes as many as it inspires, Leonard becomes an early victim, suffering a breakdown whilst writing his first novel. However, during this time he has started sharing his life with Norwegian single mother Marianne Ihlen. Seemingly settled and bathed in the oxygen of her affections, Leonard looks like possible marriage material. That said, the sixties’ fascination with free love and open relationships, it’s inevitable Leonard’s Greek chorus will eventually fall out of time with a man so clearly out of his own.
Returning to New York, Leonard embraces romantic chaos, wedded to the notion of openness and all the women he can disarm. A zig-zagging ricochet forever pursuing an unspecified target, his words finally find a home in songwriting. Riding the resulting crest of a cultural response that elevates him to being its epochal figurehead, the poet for depressed women finally finds his audience.
However, the inner siren call of Hydra will not be so easily silenced because, despite weddings, lovers and separations, Leonard’s dark, lonely and desperate magnetism always has a northerly source: Marianne Ihlen. Muse, mother and constant inspiration, theirs is a connection that moves in opposite directions. Like the sun and the moon, heaven and hell, both are inextricably linked to each other, whilst being tenderly distant.
In the end, ‘Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love’ doesn’t become a bittersweet symphony of neglect. Instead, in an unavoidably biased version of events, Nick Broomfield’s documentary tries to move Marianne to the centre so she can finally share in the recognition of what she inspired. Similarly, for a man forever trying to escape his own history, redemption comes for Leonard in a tender acknowledgement of the steps he took away from her.
Much like Leonard Cohen’s music, ‘Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love’ is an acquired taste. For fans of his music, there will be a lack of focus on his career but then again it’s clear that Nick Broomfield always intended this to be a reverential reflection of a non-judgemental mirror.