Free Love

Nick Broomfield is the British filmmaker behind some of the most acclaimed documentaries in the modern era, including Aileen Wuronos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992), Fetishes (1996) and Kurt & Courtney (1998). His latest film, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love traces the relationship between musician Leonard Cohen and his muse Marianne Ihlen, a woman who briefly became Broomfield’s lover when they all met in 1968 on the Greek island of Hydra.

ASFF: Did Marianne & Leonard feel like a very personal film to make?
NB: It definitely did. It felt like a very intimate film. I’ve always done films that were much more exterior subjects, [with me] investigating things. So I did find this one quite difficult and wondering how to use myself in it was the most difficult choice. And getting the tone right [was tricky] so it didn’t detract from their story, and it didn’t feel like I was in any way trying to impinge on the main story.

ASFF: You feature in the film, when you were 20. What were you like then?
NB: I think I was probably pretty lost. I was studying law but very unsure. Earlier that summer, I’d worked as a lifeguard in Cornwall and been pretty hopeless at it. Nobody drowned but…I’d had an interesting summer there, and done a little bit of time making bricks and being a DJ. It was that time where you’re pretty footloose and fancy-free – not kind of sure what you want to do. Broke with no money.

ASFF: What was Marianne’s relationship with Leonard like?
NB: She was never critical of him. He was kind of like her mentor. She was always quoting Leonard. He was a bit…I wouldn’t say a God, but somebody she very much admired. I don’t think she ever regretted her time with him, even though it didn’t necessarily turn out the way she had wanted it to. She was quite a positive person, so I think she took from it what she wanted. She wasn’t someone to hold someone responsible for not fulfilling her dreams or wishes. She was quite sophisticated, I think, in that way.

ASFF: How would you describe the main themes of the film?
NB: I think it is a film about love and a lot of people respond to it in that way. It is relevant to their love stories. So it doesn’t limit itself to a particular age group. I don’t think you have to have been born in the Sixties to relate to it. It’s just as relevant to people’s love stories now.

ASFF: You’ve just finished a film about your father, photographer Maurice Broomfield. How was that experience?
NB: It was a real test doing it. It was a very emotional experience making it. I loved doing it. My mother died when I was very young and I never really stopped to think about it at all, or indeed her, so that was an incredible experience. In an editing room you follow your thoughts through, and it was very revealing to me…things I haven’t really thought of. It was a bit like having very intense therapy for four or five months.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is released in cinemas on 26 July. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

1. Still from
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love.