Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

It's partner found, it's partner lost, and it’s hell to pay when the fiddler stops.

Nick Broomfield’s documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love fails to support its own thesis. The facts: On the Greek Island of Hydra in the early 1960s, Canadian writer and poet Leonard Cohen found a muse in Norwegian expat Marianne Ilhen. The thesis: Their friendship and mutual influence remained intact until they both died as octogenarians in 2016. But, as the film demonstrates, when Cohen found success as a singer and a pussyhound in the late 1960s he essentially ghosted Ilhen. Large swaths of Marianne & Leonard are about Cohen’s career, and every so often the movie’s all “Oh, and Ilhen also still existed.”

That’s probably exactly how it felt to Cohen at the time — and some interviewees suggest Ilhen was doomed, since poets like Cohen are elusive creatures who can never be pinned down by a woman and all that other tired, Great Man hoo-haa. Broomfield tries to frame the fact that after many incommunicado decades, Cohen gave Ilhen front-row tickets to a 2009 Oslo concert — and later wrote her a letter when she was dying — as grand gestures capping their half-century romance, but it doesn’t scan. There may well be a crack in everything, yet very little light gets into Marianne & Leonard. Desert Dust sounds fun, though.

Rated R. Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.

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