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August 03, 2018

NICO 1988

Nico 1988Writer-director Susanna Nicchiarelli crafts a brief biopic about Velvet Underground legend Nico that is at turns inspired, frustrating, thrilling, and inchoate. Trine Dryholm’s unvarnished performance holds the film together with a weathered beauty teetering on the edge of an abyss that only her drug-addled character can see. One element missing from the film is any regard for the stunning beauty of Nico’s youth — she worked as a model — who captured the hearts, minds, and libidos of Jackson Browne, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Brian Jones, Jimmy Page, and notably Alain Delon with whom she had a son named Ari. Never mind that Delon never claimed the child who Nico abandoned when he was four-years-old.

Dryholm embodies the tone-deaf chanteuse with the same nihilistic charisma that Lou Reed freely exhibited for most of his career. Nico clearly copped Reed’s heroin habit and refused to ever let it go. Her fascination with death comes through in the songs of her later career as featured in the film.

Trine_dyrholm

Audiences unfamiliar with Nico’s ‘60s era collaborations with Reed and The Velvet Underground, under the guidance of Andy Warhol, receive no hand-holding in this film. If you don’t already know the haunting sound of Nico’s baritone European accented voice on the songs “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “Femme Fatal,” or “Sunday Morning,” then you’ve got some homework to do.

Living a junkie existence with a band of amateur musicians, save a classically trained violinist, Nico (real name Christa Päffgen) performs for small audiences around Eastern Europe. Border crossings pose imminent danger. She hates the communist youths that risk jail to host her performance. She also loathes her fans, especially if they appear in the guise of naïve young women.  

Nico-1988

We get that Nico was a child of war; she carries around a portable recorder to capture source sounds from the environments she visits, in the hope of rediscovering the sound of Berlin being bombed when she was a tyke. Nico longs for annihilation.

Ultimately, “Nico 1988” fails because it never convinces the audience as to why we should empathize with this brutal person. That Nicchiarelli omits the moment of Nico’s lonely death on a bicycle in Ibiza, comes across as laziness on the part of the filmmaker. “Nico 1988” is a solid showcase for Trine Dryholm but it doesn’t make a case for Nico’s music.  

Rated R. 99 mins. (C+) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

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