A few years ago, there was Mat Whitecross and his “Supersonic” about Oasis. Not long after that, the stunning documentary “George Michael: Freedom” from directors David Austin and George Michael was released and earlier this year we saw the moving one about gospel icon Aretha Franklin, “Amazing Grace”.
Three different artists, three unique documentaries but still, the music predominates the personal stories. Now, director Nick Broomfield (“Whitney: Can I Be Me”, “Tales of the Grim Sleeper”), who absolutely knows how to make a documentary like no one else, shows that it can also be the other way around.
With his “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love”, he gives us an insight into the intimate relationship between the great Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.
Almost no music of the late writer and singer but a lot of personal feelings, emotions and stories turn this documentary in an up-close, moving and personal one. However, it could have used a little bit more punch especially at the beginning.
Early ‘60s. Meet Marianne Ihlen, a beautiful, open, lovely and young woman. From Norway but visiting Hydra with her young son Axel. Little did she know that a visit to that small island in Greece would have a big impact on her life.
Or better said, the unexpected encounter with poet and novelist (not yet singer) Leonard Cohen is the one thing that would turn her life upside down.
He falls for her openness, warmth, and beauty and she’s attracted by the charismatic man. At first, everything is going perfectly fine: The couple is enjoying life, love, and Greece. There is even the “So Long, Marianne” released some years after they’ve met.
However, the ’60s is the area during which open relationship, sex, drugs, and booze aren’t taboo at all and so their relationship is being influenced by those aspects more than both Marianne and Leonard would like.
The couple is being pressured even more when Leonard is discovering his singing talent and is about to travel around the world with his music.
More drinks, drugs, and women for Cohen and more jealousy, insecurity and less time with her lover for Ihlen. Which influence will this have on their relationship but also on their close friends and family?
If you’ve been following their story, then “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” might not hold many secrets for you but even then it’s an immensely intriguing story.
First of all, there are the very incredible personal stories that are being told. By Cohen and Marianne but also close friends, family members, musicians and people who influenced their lives such as performer and actress Judy Collins (which whom Cohen sang one of his first duets) and Suzanne Elrod (who became another muse and lover of Cohen).
Second of all, there is the very exclusive footage, both pictures, and videos. Whether they’re shot in Hydra, on tour or in another country, they give the highs but also the deep lows of the lives.
The more the documentary continues, the more personal the footage becomes. Especially right at the end (you should keep on watching the documentary just to see this).
Of course, a feature about Leonard Cohen wouldn’t be anything without music. However, it’s not the music you would expect. Yes, there’s the world famous “Hallelujah” as well as “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne” but most of the music doesn’t come from Cohen himself. It’s more of a calming soundtrack that takes you throughout “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love” in a relaxed way.
Sadly, this documentary has two faces and we don’t only mean the ones from Marianne and Leonard. During the first part of “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love”, it feels like you’re watching a static presentation about the couple as there are no moving images. Just pictures accompanied by the story behind it and no songs of Cohen himself.
It makes it drag on for a while but when the videos and the amazing Cohen songs are introduced on the big screen, the documentary becomes a lot more interesting.
Premiering at Sundance Film Festival in the US early this year, the documentary is now coming to this side of the pond.
You don’t have to a big fan of Cohen to appreciate this documentary as it is basically about the love story between a musician and his muse. Yes, there’s that PowerPoint feeling right at the beginning but sit through it as the documentary will become an intimate and rare one.
26th July 2019