Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song
★★★★ out of 5
Plays until Nov. 24 on Cinematheque at Home.
“The word hallelujah is so rich. It’s so abundant in resonances. People have been singing that word for thousands of years just to affirm our little journey.” – Leonard Cohen
This 2022 documentary includes never-before-seen footage of the legendary Canadian poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine are its Emmy-winning co-creators. The co-directors have been jointly producing award-winning films for more than 25 years.
The film explores a dimension of Cohen that sets him apart from most songsters. Ample audio and video material delves into Cohen’s life as a spiritual seeker. It relates the Montreal-born Jewish icon’s complex relationship with the divine.
With his 1984 song “Hallelujah,” Cohen combined the spiritual and the secular: religious verse intertwined with lovers’ lyrics. The beloved song’s plaintive prayer in poetry style mixed in with sexual innuendo is Cohen’s life philosophy.
“We are irresistibly attracted to each other. We are irresistibly lonely for each other.” – Leonard Cohen
“The other side of that is we have the same appetite for significance in the cosmos, where each of us longs for some affirmation by the Creator,” Cohen says.
Interviews with friends inside and outside the music industry make up the first part of the documentary, drawing out aspects of Cohen’s search for his spiritual path. Footage of interviews over the years with the deep-voiced singer are included.
In a 1992 interview with Larry Sloman, Cohen says he first fell in love at 50 years old. The next scene introduces 70-year-old Dominique Issermann. The audience is left to assume Isserman is the love Cohen mentions, as no other potential lovers are interviewed.
Cohen was first noted as a poet and author before emerging as a songwriting sage. In the ’60s, Cohen authored the novel Beautiful Losers. In 1966, when CBC’s Take 30 interviewed him about his book, they were told he would sing. Adrienne Clarkson, a fan early on, introduced Cohen, who was singing for the first time on television.
“Leonard wishes, in fact, not to be a poet but a kind of modern minstrel. Recently his joys and sorrows of living have come forth with a simple, beautiful and sometimes sad song,” Clarkson says.
Geller and Goldfine say it took Cohen five years to pen “Hallelujah,” which he almost didn’t complete.
“I remember being in my underwear sitting on the carpet and banging my head on the floor and saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s too lonely, too hard,’” Cohen says.
Initially, “Hallelujah” and its album, Various Positions, were rejected by Columbia Records. Though crushed, Cohen characteristically put a philosophical spin on the setback.
“From time to time, things arrange themselves in such a way that our tiny will is annihilated,” he says.
The second portion of the film describes the classic song’s universal appeal. Various known musicians perform “Hallelujah” in the film. The most soulful performance is reserved for k.d. lang, as she belts out the most heart-wrenching rendition at Cohen’s 2017 memorial.
Little is revealed of the famed singer’s personal life. When mention is made of his much-publicized romantic episodes, we understand lovers were part of a spiritual experience for Cohen. As one interviewer says, he saw women “as a spiritual path leading to some kind of enlightenment.”
Prolific to the end, his album You Want it Darker was released a few weeks prior to his death in 2016. Thanks for the Dance was released posthumously in 2019.
“You either raise your fist, or you sing hallelujah. I tried to do both.” – Leonard Cohen
Published in Volume 77, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 24, 2022)