In iconic couple goes under the microscope. Nothing new comes up

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
Coming Soon
3 out of 5

Few love stories in contemporary music have been as mythologized as the one between Norwegian beauty Marianne Ihlen and Canadian icon Leonard Cohen. Their relationship lasted somewhere between 10 and 30 years (some would argue it never ended) and was pivotal in Leonard’s development, far beyond “So long, Marianne”. Their bond is positively worth a deeper look.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is not quite that look.

Director Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me) has plenty of material yet comes up with the same info any Cohen aficionado knows by heart. This is not to say the doc isn’t interesting: the footage is an embarrassment of riches and Broomfield scores compelling testimony from observers of the romance.

Hydra, the Greek island that for decades has attracted intellectuals looking for inspiration, is as much a character as the couple. This is where Leonard and Marianne met in 1960, and they made a home of sorts. As time went on, Cohen spent less and less time on the island. The musician himself acknowledges a desire to escape any given situation and the need to feel “a little miserable” to replenish his creative juices. That may be great for an artist, but it’s not ideal for a relationship.

The documentary often veers from the relationship to focus on Cohen’s career. Sometimes it’s justified (the relationship overlaps with Leonard’s transformation into a songwriter), but it often feels unnecessary. At the same time, the film fails to make inroads on the central mystery: was Leonard’s ego the only cause of the collapse of the relationship?

Marianne & Leonard main contribution is dispelling the belief their involvement was clearly delimitated. Marianne was still in the picture during the Suzanne Elrod years, and her presence lingered well into the 80s.

Considering his background (including notable duds Kurt & Courtney and Biggie and Tupac), I normally take Nick Broomfield’s work with a grain of salt. Broomfield makes himself part of the piece as one of Marianne’s lovers during Leonard’s extended absences. To his credit, the filmmaker doesn’t overstate his role, but that’s as distinctive as this doc gets.

One would imagine Broomfield could have done better than just reproducing the well-documented dynamic between his subjects. Bit of a missed opportunity.