Directed by Nick Broomfield, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is a testament to the complicated mixture of love and fame. Chronicling the relationship between famed songwriter Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse, Marianne Ihlen, the film shows how their love evolved from their early days in Greece through Cohen’s iconic career as a musician. Through his use of voice-overs, found footage and interviews, Broomfield’s film paints a portrait of an incredible bond that, despite changes in their lives, never fully breaks.
Having met when Cohen was a poet as opposed to a globe-trotting musician, Ihlen and Cohen’s love was much deeper than marriage. Cohen spent most of his days writing and discussing ideas with Ihlen on the shores of Hydra, Greece where they could allow their most creative impulses to fly romantically. In other words, both became each other’s creative muse. As a result, their emotional and spiritual connection led to an understanding of one another that left an indelible mark upon both of their lives.
Nevertheless, as Cohen (and the rest of the world) discovered the power of his voice and music became his reality, their relationship was gradually torn apart. “I need my lady love and her son by my side,” he yearned from his new home across the ocean. However, upon their arrival, Cohen and Ihlen’s marriage began to disintegrate. (“I think he just needed to say the words,” the audience is told. “When have you ever heard any stories of musicians or poets who were incredible fathers or husbands?”)
Though their marriage fell through their fingers, Broomfield’s film shows that it never fully disappeared. Despite his increasing fame over the decades, including wild sexual dalliances and explorations with drugs, Cohen’s story constantly called him back to Ihlen. No matter how distant they were from one another whether it was physically or emotionally, he would continue to reach out and express his undying love for her. Even after her eventual remarriage, a bond remained powerfully spiritual between them. (According to one close friend of Cohen’s, “I think there was always a compartment of her heart where Mariane still felt married to Leonard.”)
As a result, there remains a beautiful sadness within Words of Love. By highlighting their deep connection, Broomfield illustrates the power of spiritual intimacy that people can experience with one another. Conversely, the film also shows the damage that can be done when people allow the self-serving nature of fame to settle into the middle of a relationship. Searching for something that he may never find, his connection to Ihlen pays the price and is slowly suffocated.
Can true love exist when two people are no longer together? Words of Love wants to believe that it can. More importantly, however, Words of Love wants to show that true love continues to inspire, even when people are worlds apart.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love spins its love story in theatres on July 12th, 2019