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Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

A story of enduring love between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse, Marianne Ihlen. The film follows their relationship from their early days in Greece, a time of “free love” and open marriage, to how their love evolved when Leonard became a successful musician.

"Nick Broomfield’s longtime friendship with Marianne Ihlen is the point of entry for “Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love,” which tells the story of the ’60s romance between Norwegian divorcee Ihlen and Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. It was a relationship that cast a long shadow in both their lives, as well as in popular culture (notably via his song “So Long, Marianne”), though its sporadic nature also spoke to the era’s Free Love ethos and Cohen’s short-attention-span romanticism in particular. Broomfield, a dogged protagonist in films like “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” and “Tracking Down Maggie,” to name just a couple, pretty much keeps out of the way here, letting plentiful archival footage and a few latter-day interviewees (but neither Ihlen nor Cohen) tell the tale.

Since Cohen’s relentlessly self-reflective life has been amply documented, and Ihlen’s considerably less so, much of this ostensible dual portrait ends up being a recap of Cohen’s life and career — not exactly fresh documentary terrain. Still, it’s an entertaining flashback to an always-diverting countercultural epoch, with a touching footnote of a semi-famous love story at its center.

Ihlen was raising a son alone after the collapse of an unhappy marriage when Cohen met her on the Greek isle of Hydra in 1960. She was part of a then-tiny colony of expat artists and bohemian types living in that idyllic setting; he wound up there by chance, traveling on prize money from his pre-musical occupation as a poet. He fell in love with the island, her and the idea of being a father figure for her child, Axel. While his writing flourished there, he eventually felt he needed to return to North America for part of the year to further his career. On one of those trips, the folk singer Judy Collins goaded him into performing one of the songs he’d begun to write, despite his considerable, and admitted, vocal limitations. He was immediately swept up in the singer-songwriter movement, and the adulation that came with it." - Dennis Harvey, Variety

"A thoughtful musing on the passing of time, of lovers past and gone, of a bygone era of hopes and dreams and lives lived to excess." - Ed Gibbs, Little White Lies

"A lovely illustration of the twists and turns of a complicated relationship that produced some of the gifted songwriter's most indelible songs." - Steve Pond, The Wrap

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Directed by: 
Nick Broomfield
Running Time: 
Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen

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