From the reliable documentarian Nick Broomfield here is another engaging film about the existential poet Leonard Cohen, “Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love.“ Cohen was a reclusive musician and author who wrote about desire and the human circumstance. He was discovered by Judy Collins and became popular in the 1960s folk scene for his deadpan voice and moody lyrics which read like poetry.
In the 60s, just before musical notoriety, Cohen traveled to Hydra in Greece. He met the Johnstons, an expatriate family and fell in love with the small isle of jumbled white-washed houses. There Cohen met Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian free-thinker who was running away from Europe.
It seemed love at first sight. Cohen wrote, dropped acid, composed his hallucinatory novel and made love. Marianne was hooked on Cohen like a narcotic, but the poet was driven to go to New York City to write lyrics.
Marianne gradually became confused by the sudden disappearances to New York or London.
Leonard would not be tied down by any relationship. To Cohen, each tryst created a different song or an alternate emotion, a new discovery. By his own admission, Cohen became obsessive-compulsive seeking women beyond reason. Women swooned when they spied the dark and serious man.
Marianne grew resentful but Cohen met a seductive yet manipulative brunette named Suzanne and Marianne married Jan, a sweet tempered man.
The film does an excellent job illustrating Cohen’s restless drive to create meaningful work and his magnetism to women. Hydra itself is a character in the film, representing hedonism and sensual desire. On film, the island resembles a gigantic octopus with its hundred-fold eyes disguised as quaint white houses.
After Hydra and New York, Cohen took refuge in a Zen monastery to hopefully uncover useful experiences, beyond the sensual.
He left after 1999, only to learn his manager and friend had embezzled millions from him. Cohen had no choice but to go on tour. He experienced a profitable renaissance. His song “Hallelujah” became iconic worldwide. Marianne was always given a front-row seat wherever Leonard played, in an effort to make amends one might deduce.
In 2016, Marianne became deathly ill. Cohen wrote (in paraphrase): “I am not far behind you; I am so close that I can almost touch your hand. Safe travels, my friend…your Leonard.”
Ihlen and Cohen died only months apart from one another in 2016. Together they existed as a kind of surreal Romeo & Juliet, together and apart, inexplicitly at once, without boundaries, labels or definitions.
“Marianne and Leonard” hints at Cohen as the ultimate enigma, a man of mystery who had no use for social conventions. The instant a relationship was described it lost its magic. Cohen sought to retain this magic without convention at any cost, even at the peril of relationships. Cohen’s refusal to adhere to any human boundaries coupled with his sudden acceptance of his lover’s devotion and mortality, albeit from a distance, makes the film as disquieting as it is poignant.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org