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Film review: Nico, 1988

Nico, 1988 opens with an older woman getting ready for her morning in a quaint beach house off the coast of Ibiza. I knew I was watching Andy Warhol’s chanteuse and one time leading lady of The Velvet Underground but the tall, ominous creature defied my expectations. Nico, 1988 features Danish actress, Trine Dyrholm as a strung out Christa Päffgen aka Nico embarking on what would be her final tour in Europe during the last year of her life. The biopic is so authentic at times it feels like a documentary filled with countless scenes forcing the audience to voyeuristically watch as she deteriorates before our eyes. Nico once said “I’ve been on the top, I’ve been on the bottom, but both places are empty.” This movie is about what goes on in the middle.

At this stage, in what is left of her career, her attitude towards music (“I don’t care about music anymore”) and Jewish people makes her almost insufferable to be around. In the first few scenes of the film, Nico makes it clear that she only wants to be referred to by her real name, Christi and does not wish to discuss her mystical years as a Chelsea Girl in interviews at all. We suddenly don’t view her as the former frontwoman for one of the world’s most infamous bands but as an addict attempting to be relevant again.

Director Susanna Nicchiarelli admitted that Trine sang every song in the film which only elevates her already near-perfect portrayal of Christi. Even when she is manically shouting for someone to bring her heroin in a restaurant, there is a certain charm that validates our fascination with her.

Nico, 1988 touches on the relationship with her troubled estranged son who ends up joining the tour with his mom and her band of “amateur junkies.” The film never aims to answer questions for us or reconcile the fact that she abandoned her only child. Even the tour, with its minor drama and mishaps ends quite anti-climatically.

The most fulfilling scene in the movie is toward the end when she delivers an incredibly visceral performance to students in Communist Prague—cigarette and wine glass in hand. The weighted darkness of the cities her band tours throughout the film mirrors the tone of this final show. It’s impossible to take your eyes off the zombie like figure that is Christi as she wails and hysterically convulses until the praise from the audience makes her turn the corners of her lips up for a rare smile. I’d like to believe that this moment gives us a glimpse of the real Christi Päffgen. Whoever that may be.

Nico, 1988 will have a limited release in New York City on July 4th 2018.

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