Leonard Cohen, in the light of “Hallelujah”

Hallelujah, the words of Leonard Cohen **

by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine

American documentary, 1 h 58

Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah & Songs from his albums

One CD or two vinyls, Columbia-Sony

In the mid-1980s, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan met in a café in the 14th arrondissement of Paris for a conversation that has remained famous. Dylan congratulated Cohen on his song Hallelujah and asked his permission to interpret it. “Did you take long to write it?” »he inquired. “It took me seven years” answered the Canadian singer, questioning him in turn about his hit I&I whom he admired. “Oh me, Dylan said casually, it took me fifteen minutes in the back seat of a taxi. »

Beyond the anecdote, a stubborn, austere and meditative creative process is revealed through the story of Hallelujah. Symbol of a whole work, of a whole life, the song serves as a narrative thread for a documentary touched by the grace of the man it honours.

In an intimate story presented at the Deauville and Venice Festivals, directors Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine bring to life an artist who has been inhabited by the sacred since the loss of his father at the age of 9. The child writes him a poem, slips it into one of his ties, then buries it in the family garden in Montreal. “It was the first time that words served me as a religious ritual and the only way for me to make sense of the world, to come to terms with the loss”, says Leonard Cohen. many years laterHallelujah will culminate at the peak of this spiritual quest.

“Hallelujah” banned from going out for two years

Leonard Cohen was 50 years old when he released his most famous and most popular title in 1984: there are more than 600 versions! The film focuses on the forgotten adventures of the course of this song “which breaks your heart and immediately glues it back together”, according to photographer Dominique Issermann. Musician John Lissauer, producer of the album Various Positions which contains Hallelujah, as well as Dance me to the End of Love and If It Be Your Will, sheds valuable light on the journey of the dissatisfied genius. He never doubted his friend: ” Since Chelsea Hotel, his songs made me think of dreams. »

Hallelujah is a universe in itself. Years of writing, between “150 to 180 verses” scribbled by Cohen in his notebooks that he entrusted to the directors before his death in 2016, a permanent search for balance between sacred and profane. A biblical story with its “secret deal” played by King David who “pleases God”followed by an invective – « but the music does not really interest you, is it not? » –, a famous pause, waves of bass on which rises a deep and tormented voice… Hallelujah should have subjugated from the outset. However, the title and the album Various Positions displease the boss of Columbia who prohibits its release in the United States!

The film “Shrek” triggers a planetary success

The rise to light of the song, released in 1986, after two years of waiting by a small New Jersey label, is combined with the rise of its author, who interprets it with an increasingly sacred intensity in advancing in age. Witness his performance at the Glastonbury Festival (England) in 2008, which opens the anthology disc that accompanies the film..

Towards the end of his life, Leonard Cohen reclaimed his work which had almost escaped him in favor of a very great performer, Jeff Buckley, who died in 1997. The animated film Shrek in 2001, in which Hallelujah is interpreted by John Cale (on the screen) and by Rufus Wainwright (on the soundtrack) transformed the title into a planetary anthem. It is performed at weddings, funerals or ceremonies, including those dedicated to the victims of Covid in 2021.

Starting from this masterful title, the directors trace in concentric circles the portrait of a complete artist, poet, author of songs and novels, musician, performer. They enlighten him with testimonies: his childhood friend Nancy Bacal, his confidant Larry “Ratso” Sloman, the singer Judy Collins who created Susanna, his rabbi Mordecai Finley… And a judicious choice of archives. We hear there the very last concert of Leonard Cohen at the age of 75 in Tel-Aviv, which he concludes with a blessing in Hebrew, a Shalom addressed to the world after his Hallelujah.


To find the man and the work

Born in Montreal on September 21, 1934 in Westmount (Canada) and died in Los Angeles (United States) on November 7, 2016, Leonard Cohen is the author of 15 studio albums, several novels and collections of poetry.

Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah & Songs from his albums, anthology released on October 14 contains 17 great titles including Suzanne, Bird on the Wire, Famous Blue Raincoat, Who By Fire?, I’m Your Man, Anthem, You Want it Darker… A CD or two vinyls, Columbia-Sony.

Hallelujah, the words of Leonard Cohen is an American documentary by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, and hits theaters on October 19.

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