Marianne and Leonard - was it really romantic?

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Thursday, October 17, 2019

I finally saw the documentary Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love. I have to say I was left a little cold, by the end I liked neither Cohen nor Marianne. He was easy to dislike, taking her for granted while sniffing after every adoring female fan. But Marianne gave herself to him with so few conditions, even putting her son in a British boarding school so she could travel with Cohen. OK, maybe I’m not a romantic, but love of your child should surely come before love of a philanderer who has sex with so many other women, and even writes about it. Interestingly, my husband was more sympathetic to Marianne than I was, he said he found her abandonment by Cohen tragic.
Tamar Hodes, author of The Water and the Wine, bases her novel on her childhood on Hydra in the 1960s. Her parents took her there when she was young, and she watched the adults tear each other apart in their quest for love, sex and art. Nick Broomfield’s documentary, echoes Tamar’s novel on the destructive outcome of the bohemian lifestyle on adults and children. Marianne’s son, Axel, has had drug addictions and spent much of his adult life institutionalised, other children of artists on the island have turned to suicide.
Hydra remains home to many artists, but they work quietly behind the high walls of their homes, a few with open studios. I would hate anyone to be turned off Hydra by the film’s focus on drugs and easy sex. Hydra can still bring peace to the soul. One of Cohen’s friends says in the documentary that simply arriving in the harbour makes him feel like he’s come home. My own sentiments precisely. I visit the island every year. I relax and renew while there. Usually, there are Leonard Cohen fans around, visiting his old home and listening to his music while sitting at his memorial. But there is so much more to Hydra than Leonard Cohen. An absence of cars give the island a peace that settles into your bones, creating a tranquillity that is hard to find elsewhere. So, it is hardly surprising that Leonard Cohen created his early work on the island.



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Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books

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