This documentary, directed by Nick Broomfield, tells a beautiful story about how the song So Long, Marianne, came into existence—and what happened after.

The main setting is the Greek island of Hydra, where Leonard Cohen, then a poet and writer, not yet a famous singer, met a beautiful Norwegian girl named Marianne Ihlen. They were lovers then and remained so even after Cohen left the island to pursue his musical career.

The story is told through archive footage, photographs, audio recordings and video interviews of those who saw Marianne’s and Leonard’s love story unfold firsthand. The audio recordings of Marianne and Leonard talking about their affair at Hydra are especially illuminating and have a haunting quality to them when set against archive footage of them on the island, in slow motion, as if stuck in time for perpetuity.


Despite occasional moments of humor, there is a bittersweet sadness to this document, not unlike the sadness of Cohen’s music. It was inspired by Leonard’s last message to Marianne as she lay on her death bed. The poet died not long after her.

This is the story of one couple, but it cannot help but deal with questions of a more universal nature, like the artist-muse relationship, the nature of celebrity and fame, and what love is, ultimately. As one interviewee remarks, “Poets don’t make good husbands.” This seemed to be true in Leonard’s and Marianne’s case, too, but the film convinces you by the end that the love they felt, however momentarily, was nonetheless true, and certainly spanned a lifetime—and beyond.

The film should be of particular interest to fans of Leonard Cohen, as it will provide a rich background for his well-known work, whether his songs, or poetry, or novels. But even those not yet familiar with the great poet would likely become fans after seeing this gem.

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‘Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love’ premieres in cinemas October 11.