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In the 1960s, the Canadian writer (and later famous songwriter) Leonard Cohen hung out in a Bohemian community on the Greek island of Hydra. He formed a relationship with a woman, Marianne, who subsequently featured in some of his songs; in the way of the time, Marianne also had a brief fling with a young man called Nick Broomfield. Broomfield is now a celebrated maker of documentary films; and his latest, 'Marianne and Leonard', tells the story of the lifetime connection between his former lover and the artist she inspired, made after both of them recently died. What's interesting in the film is a tension that Broomfield seems to avoid addressing directly: that on one hand, Cohen comes across as a sensitive and profound thinker; on the other hand, also as a spoiled, pretentious individual who took whatever his talents enabled him to take without real regard for other people. A succession of acquaintances vouch for him, saying that you just couldn't expect Leonard to make the same commitments (and, where necessary, sacrifices) that you might of others. He may have maintained a lifelong friendship with Marianne (who eventually went home to Norway and adopted a suburban life), but only on his terms; for sure he liked her, but it's unclear that he ever actually did anything for her which in any way conflicted with his own interests, and it's strange to watch a film where everyone seems to pre-emptively forgive his behaviour. Broomfield's documentary is at its best when it tries to convey the wider milieu, of which Broomfield himself was part, than when it is genuflecting to St. Leonard and his muse, who by contrast appears to have been a genuinely lovely person, but perhaps not a particularly interesting one. Today, Broomfield says, Hydra is a millionaire's playground. But he paints an interesting picture of a time when it was something else.
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