Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is a new documentary directed by Nick Broomfield (Whitney: Can I Be Me) that offers a unique snapshot of the life and career of famous poet and musician Leonard Cohen. The film specifically focuses on the relationship that Cohen had with his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.
This story is definitely very intriguing, especially if you admire the artistic process. Rather than being a biographical movie about Cohen or even a straightforward presentation of the events as they occurred, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is something more poetic — a rumination on what it means to be an artist.
Unfortunately, despite the film’s success as a love letter to the artistic process, it doesn’t quite work as a satisfying whole. Much of the movie almost feels incomplete, as if Broomfield has presented his thesis without sufficient evidence to back it up. Over the course of the film, you learn very little about Cohen or his particular process, with the focus instead on why having a muse is important.
Since the movie feels so distant from its subjects, it is unfortunately unable to sustain the audience’s interest for the entirety of the runtime. Granted, the film is just over an hour and a half long, so it doesn’t keep you bored for very long, but once you figure out in the first twenty or so minutes that the movie isn’t going to offer anything deep or insightful, it isn’t hard to check out.
That isn’t to say that the film is pointless — Broomfield has something that he wants to get across — it just comes across early on and is disappointingly superficial. The reason why the movie is so frustrating is that the beginning shows so much potential and by the end, it is just another film about how art is affected by love. We’ve seen that story a million times already.
To tell the story, Broomfield uses archive footage set to voiceover narration pulled from interviews and readings of letters written by Cohen. Although this is a somewhat standard documentary technique, the overwhelming dominance of talking head interviews in recent movies makes Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love stand out, as it shows that Broomfield wants the story to speak for itself.
In terms of execution, Broomfield has made one of the most beautiful documentaries to come out this year. The archive footage is gorgeous and immersive, particularly in the beginning when we are being introduced to Cohen and Ihlen and the island of Hydra, and the score is equally wonderful. It’s just a shame that Broomfield couldn’t quite nail down the story.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is a nice-looking documentary, and although it isn’t deep or personal enough to be of any particular impact, it is still worth watching, especially if you are fascinated with the process of how art is made.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love opens in theaters on July 5.