In the 1960s, Hydra was a seemingly magical refuge from the world, a bubble that kept you safe as long as you stayed inside it. But for many who left the Grecian island and returned to what was then referred to as the “rat race,” life away from their sanctuary proved dangerous, and there were many casualties along the way.
Leonard Cohen met an early, essential inspiration for his life’s work on Hydra—Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian woman who was visiting Greece with her husband and son. This is where MARIANNE & LEONARD—WORDS OF LOVE—the fascinating new documentary by Nick Broomfield—begins. Cohen’s obsessive self-involvement provided its own buttress against straight society:
“A large part of my life was escaping, whatever it was… It was a selfish life, but at the time it felt like survival.”
It was left to Marianne to take what Broomfield—during his Film Independent Presents post-screening interview with artistic director Jacqueline Lyanga—called the “oddly unflattering” role of muse. MARIANNE & LEONARD brings us the lifelong entanglements, the separations and reunions, the breakdowns and break-ups, the round-the-clock use of speed, wine, LSD, and other substances (“They used to call me Captain Mandrax,” explains Cohen in the film, citing the Quaalude-like drug he used to combat paralyzing stage fright)—all told through the eyes and hindsight of a man, Broomfield, who was also on Hydra in the ’60s and also fell in love with Marianne.
The film ends with Cohen reciting the last lines of his poem “Days of Kindness”:
“… What I loved in my old life
I haven’t forgotten
It lives in my spine
Marianne and the child
The days of kindness
It rises in my spine
and it manifests as tears
I pray that loving memory
exists for them too
the precious ones I overthrew
for an education in the world.”
Ihlen and Cohen died less than four months apart. And in the end he did give her what she wanted most, sending her a last message on her death bed: “See you down the road my friend. Endless love and gratitude, your Leonard.”
MARIANNE & LEONARD—WORDS OF LOVE
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Black and white photographs: Marianne Ihlen and Leonard Cohen in Marianne & Leonard—Words of Love (2), courtesy and Nick Broomfield and Roadside Attractions. Color photographs: Broomfield (2) and Jacqueline Lyanga at the Film Independent Presents special screening of Marianne & Leonard at the Arclight Hollywood on July 2, 2019. Photograph by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.