HALLELUJAH: LEONARD COHEN, A JOURNEY, A SONG
(director/writer: Daniel Geller/Dayna Goldfine; cinematographer: Daniel Geller; Editors: Dayna Goldfine, Bill Weber, Daniel Geller; music: John Lissauer; cast: Leonard Cohen, Glen Hansard, Bob Dylan, Clive Davis,Jeff Buckley, John Cale, Judy Collins, Larry “Ratso” Sloman; Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Daniel Geller/Dayna Goldfine: Dogwood; 2021)
“So far there’s no definitive biopic on Cohen, but some films such as this one that give us a taste of his rich life.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Co-directors and writers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine (“Ballets Russes”) give us a fine reverential film on the late legendary Canadian singer Leonard Cohen (1934-2016). It looks at the seven-year writing process of ’Hallelujah’, and its lyrical evolution from religious allegory to an earthier, more personal quest. This was Cohen’s 1984 anthem song, one that was inspired by “The Holy and the Broken” by author Alan Light,. There’s also more it tells of Cohen’s iconic career, from his wealthy upbringing in Montreal, being raised as an Orthodox Jew, to his late start as a singer at age 33, his bohemian days on the Greek island of Hydra (an island he would buy), his womanizing, his international fame as a singer and in his later years spending six years in retreat in a California Zen Buddhist monastery.
The film covers the singer’s period as just a songwriter and transformation to a singer, his hymn song’s rocky dramatic journey to get a record label and when recorded becoming an international hit on the charts, and to moving testimonies from major recording artists for whom Hallelujah has become a part of their experience.
The film focuses on a few of his albums such as (“Songs From a Room,” “New Skin for the Old Ceremony”), and the books and poems he’s written. They also include his romances, such as the long relationship with Marianne Ihlen, for whom he wrote “So long Marianne.” They lived together in the 1960s on Hydra. In the 1970s Cohen lived with Suzanne Elrod, with the unmarried couple having two children. But his hit song “Suzanne” was written for another girl named Suzanne, Suzanne Verdal. In the 1980s Cohen romanced the fashion photographer Dominique Isserman.
The anthem song, that can’t be fully explained, was written by Cohen during a difficult time in his career, then reworked by John Cale, who had access to the 80-plus unused verses Cohen had written for the song, Cohen sang it during a Judy Collins concert and the song was well-received and grew in popularity over the years. In 1994, Jeff Buckley included his own version on his “Grace” album, which brought in an entirely new audience.
The affectionate Cohen film ends with k.d. lang’s eloquent rendition, the version that most of his fans find the most appealing.
So far there’s no definitive biopic on Cohen, but some films such as this one that give us a taste of his rich life. This is another of such well-made films that will be cherished by fans of the singer, and might be a good place for the youngsters who don’t know him to check-him out.
REVIEWED ON 9/6/2021 GRADE: B