Film Review: NICO, 1988 (Italy/Belgium 2017) ***1/2

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Nico, 1988 Poster

The last year of singer Nico’s life, as she tours and grapples with addiction and personal demons.

NICO, 1988 is as the title implies, about Nico during her last years before 1988.  Nico is Christa Päffgen (an outstanding performance by Dane actress Trine Dyrholm), known to the world by her stage name “Nico”.   Nico was one of Warhol’s muses, a singer of The Velvet Underground and a woman of legendary beauty.  But expect a different person portrayed in the film, as Nico says in the film: “Don’t call me Nico.  My name is Christa.”  She admits she does not want to talk about The Velvet Underground followed by confessing that she thinks she is ugly.

The film follows Nico as she lived a second life after the story known to all, when she began her career as a solo artist.  Nico, in the time prior to 1988 is the story of Nico’s last tours with the band that accompanied her around Europe in the Eighties: years in which the “priestess of darkness”, as she was called, found herself again, shaking off the weight of her beauty and rebuilding the relationship with her only forgotten son.   The son, Ari (Sandor Funtek) appears at exactly the half way mark of the film.  Besides the story of an artist and her tour, the film is also the story of a rebirth, of an artist, of a mother, of the woman beyond the icon.

One problem with NICO, 1988 is that the many people familiar with her would have high expectations for this biography, since Nico is a larger than life personality and hard to replicate.  Getting the audience interested and caring for Nico is another thing –  an important task for the director making the film..  

As in most films on music performers, the drug problem needs be addressed.  Nico is no stranger to drugs.  It gets ugly.  She uses the hard stuff – heroin and is not afraid to state it.  In one  disturbing scene set in a Prague restaurant, she goes ballistic when she cannot get some, blaming the communists for stealing her passport.

The last half hour of the 90 minutes film is a powerhouse where director Nicchiarelli

turns up the film full throttle.  The audience sees Nico performing her songs.  One can see the reason she got so popular.  The film ends in the year 1988, which the audience can predict as her end.

The film’s best segment is the one Nico performs at her illegal concert in Prague.  Before she goes on stage, she curses her manager for arranging the gig.  But when the spotlight shines on her on the stage and she starts crooning, director Nicchiarelli captures the singer’s anger, regret and finally respect for her audience.  It is a powerful, unforgettable and rare moment beautifully captured on screen.

What is also interesting is Nico’s despicable personality.  She calls her band members amateur drug addicts.  She springs her drug addicted son, Ari from the sanatorium and drags him on tour believing herself that she is doing good, loving her son.  She also accuses her manager (John Gordon Sinclair who played the main role of Gregory in GREGORY’S GIRL, way back when) of devising different ways of stealing from her.  In one rare mement though, she unexpectedly thanks him.

NICO the film, (like the artist herself), can be best described as an exhilarating feel-bad biography.



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