Agnès Varda, photographer, installation artist and pioneer of the Nouvelle Vague, is an institution of French cinema. Taking a seat on a theatre stage, she uses photos and film excerpts to provide an insight into her unorthodox oeuvre.
"Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love" (2019 release; 102 min.) is a documentary about the (in)famous relationship between singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen. As the movie opens, we are "July 28, 2016" and the BBC informs us that Marianne has passed away. We then go to the "1970 Isle of Wright" festival, where Cohen asks the massive crowd "Marianne, are you there? Where are you, Marianne?" We then go to the early 60s in Hydra, Greece, where Marianne was living and Leonard, a struggling writer, has just arrived, and they meet by chance.... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from director Nick Broomfield, best known for his "Kurt & Courtney" documentary in the late 90s. Here he delves into the long relationship between Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen, who became Leonard's lover and muse. As a life-long fan of Leonard Cohen, I knew of Marianne vaguely (of course through the song "So Long, Marianne") and knew of their relationship but really nothing more than that. So this documentary was quite revealing in many ways. I was amazed at all of the archive footage that was unearthed from the 60s and 70s that paint such a vivid picture of that era (including footage from Broomfield himself and from D.A. Pennebaker, among others). We hear from Marianne (mostly through Norwegian interviews) and Leonard themselves extensively, but others comment as well (check out Judy Collins and, even better, the extensive comments from Ron Cornelius, Cohen's band mate who sounds remarkably like Bill Clinton). Please note: this is NOT a bio-documentary of Leonard Cohen. Hence, while there are some music and performance clips, they are clearly secondary only. The focus of the film is the long and complicated relationship/friendship between Marianne and Leonard. The last 10 min. of the film are a true emotional gut punch (as we know all along that these two passed away just months apart in 2016).
"Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love" opened out of the blue this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I immediately just had to go see it. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was not attended well (exactly 5 people in total). I have no idea how an "average" viewer might watch this documentary, but as a life-long fan of Cohen, I thought this documentary was just lovely from start to finish. (I saw Cohen in concert only 1 time, at the 2009 Coachella music fest, and what an unforgettable set that was.) If you are a Leonard Cohen fan and always have been curious about that mysterious Marianne from "So Lone, Marianne", I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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