Marianne and Leonard: What happens when documentary-makers put themselves in the story
Inside Film: Nick Broomfield’s new documentary explores the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his lover and muse, but does the director’s own involvement disturb the narrative?
Nick Broomfield’s new documentary, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, should really be called Marianne, Leonard... & Me. The film ostensibly tells the story of Canadian troubadour Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, who met and fell in love on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s. But there is more to it than that.
Broomfield portrays Hydra in this period as a hidden, counterculture paradise, rife with drug-taking and party-going, where artists, hippies and poets could live on $1,000 a year. But it wasn’t all sun-kissed hedonism. This was where Cohen, the Jewish aristocrat from Montreal, was at his most creative. Ihlen brought him food and drink while he “wrote and wrote and wrote”.
Their relationship foundered as Cohen’s fame grew, but the pair stayed in touch for more than half a century. Cohen sent his final, immensely poignant message to Ilhen days before she died in July 2016, and just a few months before his own death later that year: “Our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”