In the grand fashion of documentaries such as Amy, or even Roger Ebert’s Life Itself, Nick Broomfield’s latest feature continues the tradition of reincarnating legendary artists, onto the silver screen. This time around, Broomfield and co, with the help of the BBC, managed to pull of an extraordinary feat of romantic cinema; a portal to a time of reckless youth and confused mid-life crises. Largely documenting the numerous sexually-charged events which occurred on the island of Hydra, throughout the early 1960’s to the 70’s; the real-life Greek indulged drama between Cohen’s ex-lover Marianne ; who inspired a handful of Leonard’s early works, including but not limited to the infamous So Long Marianne; comes with the cost of a turbulent lifestyle involving Cohen’s womanizing attitude and rambunctious spirit.
What later comes at a fatal cost, the primary focus of Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is surprisingly not the relationships between Cohen and his lovers. What may come as a shock due to it’s misleading title to many interested viewers, Broomfield takes a much more subdued and broad approach, and instead focuses largely on Cohen’s irrational behavior among industry officials and close family/friends. We see the evolution of Leonard’s career, throughout the times of Woodstock and Watergate, where the personal touches to his charisma, deeply affect the art he produces. We see the consequences of his actions, largely extensive drug usage, through old archival footage of an anything-but-sober young Leonard Cohen.
Yet the main downfall of this latest documentary, is that it feels all too familiar to other passion products regarding the life and eventual downfall of high-status artists. The typical three-act structure feels overwhelming with each and every minuscule fast-paced tangent of Leonard’s life, and the initial promised developed concept just feels torn and battered at the end of the day. What could have been a riveting commentary regarding the generational epidemic of low-life intentions, and the result of the coked-up young adult adolescent-behavior of the late 60’s and early 70’s; largely ended up becoming a rudimentary film about a larger-than-life figure. It’s times like these where I reflect on the repetitive inability of recent filmmakers, to re-develop their idea on the concept of “documentary.” While the documentation of the subject should be primary to the production, what should eventually come first is the reasoning for why the film exists in the first place, and why it first and foremost, stands out from the crowd.
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love may have it’s heart in the right place, when representing the tragic downfalls of romance and relationships of it’s depicted era; but the broad open-ended approach to the film comes to an overwhelming halt. Neither the less, Broomfield’s latest is one of pure admiration and heart, through each interview and audio clipping. One of the final lines of the film, is one of pure sincerity and emotional catharsis, that summarizes the doc perfectly in a nutshell:
“That’s what words of love can do”
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is Now Playing in Select Cinemas