Posts Tagged Axel Ihlen

Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

Director: Nick Broomfield

Runtime: 1hr 42mins

marianne and leonardNick Broomfield’s documentary opens with a BBC television news report from 2016 of Marianne Ihlen’s death and reports of a last email sent to her by her one-time lover, the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen; who was himself to die some three months later. These are the ‘words of love’ from the film’s title.

Nick Broomfield then tells the story of how Marianne and Leonard met on the paradise Greek island of Hydra when he was a struggling young Canadian poet and she was emerging from an abusive marriage.

Broomfield has crafted this compelling documentary from a lot of archive footage – including some of his own – and he’s made good use of interviews with friends and recorded recollections of Marianne and Leonard themselves.

Both Marianne and Leonard had a whole lot of love to give – in that brief period in the Sixties which was the era of hedonistic ‘free love’ and ‘open marriage’. The effects on the younger generation only emerged later. The Johnston family – who mentored Leonard when he arrived on Hydra – lost their mother and all but one of the children to mental illness and suicide when they left the island and tried to resume normal life back home in Australia.  Marianne’s son – ‘little Axel’ also developed a number of mental issues and had to be admitted into a mental institution in later life.

Both Marianne and Leonard also had to deal with depression. Both sought comfort in the arms of others: Leonard with Janis Joplin, his other muse Suzanne Elrod and others; and Marianne who had brief relationships with Nick Broomfield before remarrying and returning to Norway. It was her encouragement that persuaded Broomfield to make the first of many successful documentaries.

This is a revealing and passionate film. I reckon that two-thirds to three-quarters of the audience in my local cinema were women of a certain age; probably in their mid teens to early twenties around the time of the 1970 Isle of White festival when Cohen first came to prominence in Britain. He never lost that magnetic appeal to many women.

The ‘words of love’ in the title came from the email Leonard sent to Marianne in 2016 after hearing from their mutual friend, Jan Christian Mollestad that she was dying from cancer;

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.

“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey.

“Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

This story became public shortly after Marianne’s death. Leonard died some three months later. What we didn’t know then was that she was filmed on her deathbed by Mollestad as he read Leonard’s final letter to her. I have never seen anything more moving in my life; what an emotional punch this film packs. The old cliché, ‘not a dry eye in the house’ was no exaggeration this time.

Circumstances and events drew Marianne and Leonard apart and into the arms of others for a while; but despite this, they had a deep bond that never entirely faded away. From her earlier recollections to footage of Marianne singing away to herself the familiar words of ‘her’ song, So Long, Marianne in her front row seat at his Olso concert in 2008, Broomfield faithfully documents their intertwined stories and their complicated lives. It’s powerful stuff.

David Kerr

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