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Marianne & Leonard: A Muse and The Man She Loved

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is the new documentary about the Canadian folk singer Leonard Cohen and his muse from his early years, Norwegian Marianne Ihlen

I only knew Leonard Cohen in his later years. I did not know that when he was young and poor he wrote a novel that was so bad it made him turn to song writing, and that he had lived in Hydra, Greece with Marianne who inspired him in both his novel and his early song writing days (he wrote five songs about her). I also did not know that he was terrible to her, left her alone in Greece while he partied with too many other women (a young Janis Joplin shows up in this film), and that after years of not being loved right, she let him go, but they both never let go completely.

When she was on her deathbed, having been diagnosed with leukemia and married to someone else, an equally old Leonard Cohen sent her a telegram, which we see being read to Marianne in her hospital bed.

“Dearest Marianne,

I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too, and the eviction notice is on its way any day now.

I’ve never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Love and gratitude.

— Leonard

It’s such a poignant scene. Here is an old sick man reaching out to his sick lover with a message she has wanted to hear her whole life.

She died in Oslo on July 28, 2016 at age 81; Cohen died four months later of cancer at 82 on November 7, 2016.

Everything else in this two-hour, mostly black and white documentary is really focused on the times that made Leonard Cohen Leonard Cohen, which are a fascinating tapestry of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, followed by the shock of his disappearing to become a Buddhist for five years and returning as an old man whose business manager has stolen all his money, so he starts over in 2001. That is why the song Halleluiah is the one we all know him for, and not Goodbye Marianne, which really starts and ends this documentary of a complicated love story, but a love story nonetheless.

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