Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Jul 27, 2019

This doc is as soulful and memorable as Cohen's art itself.

Film reviewed: Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love

Grade: A-

Director: Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me)

Screenplay: Documentary

Cast: Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 42 min

By: John DeSando

If you are familiar with Canadian Leonard Cohen’s work, you’ll recognize the deep voice singing lyrics of poetic joy and lamentations mostly about women in his life. Such is also the spirit of the informative and moving documentary Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, both joyful like his megahit Halleluiah and woeful like his song of goodbye to his muse Marianne, a Norwegian beauty capable of inspiring transcendent music.

A woman in my theater row disclosed that the two concerts of Leonard she saw were a religious experience. Indeed, here was a poet and songster who exuded a prayerful love of life and inspirational muses like Marianne and Suzanne. That he spent six of his last years in a monastery is no surprise, nor that during that Buddhist time he lost his fortune to a “friend” who embezzled it all.

Love and loss fueled his ‘60’s persona that with his poetic writing and dark good looks magnetized women to the extent that the endless supply of supplicants seemed to energize and inspire him rather than laying low ordinary men with the excess. This doc is about the beginning of his career with Judy Collins introducing him as a singer rather than just a composer who lived with Marianne on the idyllic Greek isle Hydra.

Although director and close Marianne friend Nick Broomfield stays out of the lovers’ way, he loses some power in the multiple vignettes that sometimes feel isolated rather than fluid. Nor does the director allow more than just snippets from memorable songs such as Suzanne, Goodbye Marianne, Halleluiah, and Bird on a Wire, which are my favorites. In truth, this estimable doc is about Leonard’s love life rather than his songs anyway.  

I miss this unique troubadour, and you will too after hearing him again and living for a short while with his inspirations.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at