Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man: Monastery Soup

Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Lian Lunsun
Starring: Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Martha Wainwright
(PG-13, 104 min.)

"Like a bird on the wire/ like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried in my way to be free." Leonard Cohen

Montreal-born Leonard Cohen, who died yesterday at age 82,  is Canada’s Bob Dylan, but he never went electric, sold out, or even yearned for fame. As his sage comments interspersed throughout reveal, Cohen the man is definitely more interesting than the film that pays him tribute, showing us that some aging icons actually achieve both wisdom and humility.

And yes, I do think Bono’s gushing comparison to Keats is a bit much, but he is correct in gauging Cohen’s romantic yearning, his search for truth and beauty. Yet Cohen, a still quite handsome seventy something, dismisses his reputation as a “silver-tongued Casanova”.

“My reputation as a ladies man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly the 10,000 nights I spent alone.” However, one such night he was not alone. It was at the famous Chelsea Hotel in New York, home of artists, poets, and hangers on. In candid lyrics celebrating a sensuous one night stand with a famous singer, he is chivalrous enough not to mention her name, yet indiscreet enough to drop it to a reporter. It was indeed, a young Janis Joplin who was frolicking with him “…on the unmade bed/while the limousines wait in the street.” Contrast that to Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, and her mysterious allusion to an arrogant lover hinted at but never revealed, except when the name was recently auctioned off for charity at a huge sum. Now if Leonard Cohen would have been a bit tighter lipped, he could have collected a nice little nest egg for his golden years.

But then, again, that was never his quest, In fact, in the mid nineties Cohen was quite happy to while away two years as a monk living in a cabin no larger than “a budget motel room.” He was cook to the 88 year old Japanese Zen master, Roshi, rising every day at three AM to begin his preparation. Ten years later he reflects that the spartan life was at first too much for him and he ran away at first, but later returned to what he comically called the revenge of World War II, what with the Japanese Zen Master and the German auxiliary monk to his Jewish novitiate. 

What rings true is that, to whatever extent someone who sees through a glass darkly can ever be, Leonard Cohen is at peace with himself, his flaws and imperfections, a case made eloquently in his richly textured “Anthem.”

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

I wish it had been more so with the range of artists singing his songs. Personally, I think many of them should spend a little time with the Zen Masters and lose a little bit of themselves. Instead of the songs pouring through them, for the most part, they were more focused on themselves as the vessels. These performances were in such contrast to the self deprecating presence of the man himself that it was jarring. That and the rather tiresome camera work, which consisted of close up shots of the performer’s twisted faces and writhing gyrations. One wanted to give them a healthy dose of Pepto-Bismol and put an end to it. At times it felt more like we were on tour of a hospital ward reserved for those afflicted with obscure neurological diseases and strange body ticks. 

What we really longed for – I guess this longing was contagious -- was more about Leonard Cohen and the story behind his life and songs. At any rate, any film that leaves you that hungry for more has made its mark. 

If you want to find out more about this "beautiful loser" go to The Leonard Cohen Home Page.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Let’s face, what with the getting up every morning at 3 AM to begin cooking, even Leonard only lasted two years in the monastery. Perhaps he was making his dishes a bit too complicated.

Let’s select a simple soup from Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook. This recipe was actually gleaned from the lovely gem, From a Monastery Kitchenby Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. His recipe for Hearty White Wine and Garlic Soup is simple to make, sure to soothe, but does not necessarily lend itself to the fresh breath of romantic yearnings.

But ladies’ man Leonard, that was another time, another place.

Monastery Soup 

  • 16 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (or more)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups bouillon
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6 slices whole wheat bread
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 3 egg whites, beaten stiff

Sauté the garlic in olive oil in a soup kettle for a few minutes. Add the wine. bouillon, salt and nutmeg, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low to medium, add the egg yolks, and cook for 15 minutes. Simmer for another 15 minutes, covered.

Place one slice of bread in each of six soup plates. Scatter the stiff egg whites over the bread. Ladle the hot soup over the bread and serve immediately.

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook