Yet two insights from Jewish women, from friends of Cohen’s since his youth in a Montreal suburb, puncture the film’s aura of masculine braggadocio. Writer Nancy Bacal recalls: “He loved women. He made women feel good about themselves.” Aviva Cantor Layton, wife for over two decades of poet Irving Layton, Cohen’s mentor and Jewish role model, stresses the “Oedipal” impact of Cohen’s “mad” Russian mother Masha, seen in photographs; Cohen talks about sharing his mother’s singing and her terrible bouts of depression. Marianne confided in Aviva that she had abortions to keep their idyll going, as he went back and forth to Montreal, where, in the 1970’s, another Suzanne delivered his two children. Island friends speak ruefully to the camera about how damaging the free love and drugs were on families, including Marianne’s son from her earlier marriage.
Cohen confesses six years in a Buddhist monastery during the 1990s were for “trying to learn about love” – “when you recognize the full equality of that exchange …it’s a different kind of magic…of strength.”
Marianne enthralled director Nick Broomfield in 1968 when he was 14 years her junior and briefly joined her on Hydra. The lonely muse later traveled to his student digs in England and encouraged him to start making documentaries. After seeing her front row at Cohen’s final Oslo concert mouthing the song named for her, the film shows Marianne listening to his farewell love letter just before she died. Cohen followed three months later.