- 26 Jul 19
TOUCHING REFLECTION ON THE ARTIST/MUSE RELATIONSHIP
Nick Broomfield has always been a major onscreen presence in his documentaries – turning the struggles and challenges he encounters making them into a fascinating part of each story. But in Marianne & Leonard: Words Of Love, his exploration of Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen feels more personal. Broomfield himself had a brief relationship with Ihlen, who was a lifelong love of Cohen, inspiring one of the most tender break-up songs ever written. Made after their deaths, this film is a tribute to them, their enduring romance, and the culture that sparked it.
Broomfield provides an entertaining review of Cohen’s initial struggles with confidence, his growing success, his infamous womanising, his self-reflective period in a Buddhist monastery and his later financial struggles after his manager embezzled his entire fortune.
Perhaps because Cohen’s life has been so well-documented, what becomes the most interesting but considerably slighter thread of the film is the role of Ihlen and the Greek island of Hydra – and the formative if complex roles they played in Leonard’s life. Hydra became a bohemian haven in the ‘60s, offering creatives and artists a chance to live out the acid-dropping, nudity-embracing, hedonistic, free-loving philosophies of the era’s counterculture. It sounds utopian – and was, in that it couldn’t exist as described. Hydra had a calamitously destructive quality on many people, including Ihlen, who struggled to define herself outside of the status of “muse.” Her relationship with Cohen became more one-sided, despite his public professions of love to her, because, as friend Aviva Layton explains: “Poets do not make great husbands. You can’t own them.”
Broomfield explores this relationship through interviews, archival photographs and footage, and correspondence between Ihlen and Cohen, including footage of her being read a farewell message from Cohen before she died. He also uses personal photographs and recollections to elevate our understanding of this never-ending Summer Of Love, the artist/muse relationship, and the occasionally devastating side-effects of both.