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Deauville (AFP) – Can a song, no matter how iconic, illuminate an artist’s life? In Deauville, a documentary offers a dive into the intimacy of Canadian musician Leonard Cohen, who died in 2016, with, as a common thread, his song “Hallelujah”.
Presented on Saturday evening in the documentary section of the Deauville American Film Festival, “Hallelujah, the words of Leonard Cohen”, signed by the duo Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine (“Ballets Russes” (2005), “Isadora Duncan” (1988)) , is a hybrid object.
Not a biopic about the creator of “Suzanne”, nor is the film a documentary about a song, “Hallelujah”. “What we tried to do was look at Leonard Cohen’s life through his most famous song,” Dayna Goldfine told AFP.
The film aims to “shed light on the strong moments and the influences that nourished Leonard Cohen, to pierce his spirituality”, she continues.
A project that took more than eight years to materialize but which was done with the approval of the principal concerned. “It was important for us to have the tacit blessing of Leonard. Without that, we could not have made the film”, underlines Daniel Geller.
Very rich, it is filled with rare archives obtained from the family of the author, composer and performer. Among these treasures, a video of the young Leonard in full poetic reading or his first interviews.
More anecdotally, the film also gives pride of place to several “selfies” of the artist taken with his Polaroid camera. “He was someone who was ahead of his time, who took selfies in the 1970s,” Dayna Goldfine says mischievously.
Above all, the directors had access to the personal notebooks of the poet and musician. “It took years to get them back,” says Dayna Geller. “It’s also proof of what Leonard has always said. That it took years to write this song, spread over five notebooks,” she explains.
Song which his record company, Columbia, did not want. It was only a few years later that Bob Dylan released her from anonymity, then John Cale (1991), before Jeff Buckley (1994).
“Not Rock ‘n’ Roll”
The documentary richness of the film does not stop there. It is also nourished by first-hand testimonials, such as that of Judy Collins who gave him confidence to get started.
Like when he went on stage in 1967 to perform “Suzanne”. Terrified, he ends up abandoning her before being caught by Collins who encourages him to finish his performance.
“He was a fairly atypical performer, with an atypical voice. He was not a very + Rock’n’roll + personality … And I think she helped him a lot to overcome that”, analyzes the co -director.
If the film meticulously explores the genesis and the revivals of “Hallelujah”, it also sheds light on the torments of the artist, his quest for spirituality, his depression – from which he suffered in silence for years – and the rejection he first aroused, painting a very human portrait of a man known for his immense career but who never ceased to doubt.
“Even before starting the project, I thought that Leonard Cohen was a god. (…) But, after having spent eight years scrutinizing his life, it became clear that he was a man and not a god. (…) A man who has done real work on himself, every day of his life,” says Dayna Goldfine.
Finally, adds Daniel Geller, the documentary is not so much a film about a man but above all a “journey through life. Journey that we all do”.
The film hits theaters on October 19.
© 2022 AFP