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Review: 'Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love' is a story of life, love & no regrets

Posted Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 12:18 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at 12:19 PM Central

by John Couture

Leonard Cohen was one of those singer-songwriters whose name oozes musical talent. Along with the likes of Dylan, Cash, Young, and Bowie, Leonard Cohen was an inspiration to many and his music helped to shape an entire generation - even if they didn't realize it.

Like many creative geniuses, he drew inspiration from a long line of muses, none more important than Marianne Ihlen. The pair met during the early 1960s as expats from Canada and Norway and they quickly fell in love. This time was a pivotal moment in Leonard's life as he finally fully embraced his path as a singer-songwriter and many people credit his affair with Marianne as being the spark that launched his successful career.

While Leonard Cohen didn't shy away from finding inspiration in women (see 'Suzanne' and Suzanne Elrod), it was his relationship with Marianne Ihlen that had the most lasting impact upon his life and career. The pair met when each was at a pivotal crossroads in their life and filmmaker Nick Broomfield is able to recreate this moment through the use of home movies and interviews with friends and family.

While it's easy to say that Leonard steals the spotlight in the film from his paramour, Marianne's impact is continually felt throughout and one particular scene in towards the end really brings the entire story full circle. I have long been a believer that our past experiences help shape who we are and what we become and this love story is simply more proof of this theory.

When the two lovebirds met, Marianne was estranged from her husband and Leonard was contemplating a career change as his writing attempts seemed to be fizzling. Whatever the waters off Hydra hold, there's no denying that in them these two forged a lifelong love that transcended the societal constraints and conceptions of marriage to form a lasting bond that would shape their endeavors from that moment forward.

Oddly enough, director Nick Broomfield would later become one of Marianne's lovers and it is perhaps this proximity to their titular relationship that helps to drive the passion of the film. For Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is very much a love story, albeit it one with a very winding road. While there have been many volumes written and filmed about Cohen's life, very little has been shed on Ihlen's life until now.

The 1960s were a pivotal decade in our culture, but we mostly view it through a narrow America-centric lens. The truth is that the peace and love movement was truly one that reached all corners of the globe, including a small Grecian island. While Cohen's musical genius is something that can never be debated, it is always interesting to see where creative types find their inspiration.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is a microcosm look at how two random people can meet and change the world. Neither Leonard or Marianne started out with such ambition, but you just never know where that first push of inspiration will strike. The film is mostly a love letter to a relationship and friendship that challenged the preconceived definitions of love in a way that would eventually come to resonate with many in today's generation.

Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of those songs that has been covered by countless performers over the years, and yet it is singularly one of the most beautiful songs ever composes. It's perceived simplicity belies the impact that it has had on the world and, by extension, that Cohen has had on the music industry.

Interestingly, both of the subjects of the film passed away within months of each other in 2016 and yet their impact continues to be felt today. The singer-songwriter and his muse will endure through the annals of time as a match that helped to shape the future of music.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is now available on DVD.