Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love pokes into an affair of the heart.
Loving Leonard Cohen means accepting him. This documentary does not gloss over the aspects of the poet’s life that are unsavory — drugs, acid, womanizing. It presents his depressions and digressions, his depths and heights. It does not make an idol of him.
Director Nick Broomfield concentrates on Cohen’s relationship with Marianne Ihlen, his muse, the woman who inspired his song, “Marianne.” The “so long” of the opening lines was once “come on,” so this film tracks the break-up of their long love affair..
Marianne was a Norwegian divorcée, a young mother, who met Leonard on Hydra, a Greek island. “I was a rather lost 20-year-old,” she recounted in a vintage interview. However, Ihlen says of those days, “I was his muse.”
On that island, Cohen was a book writer. He produced the mysterious but memorable Beautiful Losers. I loved it, but critics hated it. So he turned to the music of his mad mother Masha. He found, through Judy Collins’ urging, that he was not only a writer of lyrics but a singer of songs with his basso vibrating like the deeper pipes of an organ.
Broomfield follows Cohen through the early albums, the acid, the speed, the breakdowns, the monastery, the women, and on to “Hallelujah” and the final, stunning concerts to win back the money his friend and agent stole from him.
The documentary itself is not sterling, not like the recent ones about Toni Morrison and about the systematic erasure of women from film. Marianne and Leonard is raggedy as a film and not because it tells the truth about a deeply flawed and talented man. However, it does tell an important story about a poet, a feminist, a complex creature who loved a woman named Marianne. He wrote her on her deathbed, “I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand.” Leonard Cohen died in 2016, three months after Marianne Ihlen.
I’m Martha K. Baker. From the Grand Center Arts District, this is 88.1, KDHX, St. Louis.