‘Nico, 1988’

Su­sanna Nic­chiarelli makes a shrewd move in ex­plor­ing the last year of singer’s life.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - KEN­NETH TURAN FILM CRITIC ken­neth.turan@la­times.com

If you know the name Nico at all, it’s from a brief mo­ment in time in the 1960s when she col­lab­o­rated with Lou Reed on the iconic “The Vel­vet Un­der­ground & Nico” al­bum and was anointed by the me­dia as the epit­ome of hip­ster cool.

But Nico’s cre­ative life didn’t end when her as­so­ci­a­tion with the band did. She kept mak­ing in­flu­en­tial mu­sic though of a dark, tor­mented, edgy kind that re­sisted both cat­e­go­riza­tion and com­mer­cial suc­cess.

In “Nico,1988,” Ital­ian direc­tor Su­sanna Nic­chiarelli had the shrewd idea of dra­ma­tiz­ing the last year of the life and work of the singer, who pre­ferred to go by her given name of Christa.

Bet­ter than that, she cast the bravura Dan­ish ac­tress Trine Dyrholm, whose cred­its in­clude the ground­break­ing “The Cel­e­bra­tion” and the minis­eries “The Legacy,” to play Christa/Nico in all her mag­nif­i­cent con­tra­dic­tions.

Dyrholm, an ac­tress of for­mi­da­ble pres­ence who ex­pertly han­dles her own singing as well as the act­ing, gives a strong, truth­ful, un­flinch­ing per­for­mance that pow­ers the film the way Christa’s en­ergy pow­ered the bands she was in those late days.

Writ­ten as well as di­rected by Nic­chiarelli, who in­ter­viewed numer­ous peo­ple who knew the singer, “Nico, 1988” has el­e­ments of farce as well as those of tragedy.

Nei­ther sur­pris­ing, fi­nally, from a woman who says, “I have been on the top, I have been on the bot­tom, and both places are empty.”

The first time we see Christa is as a child in wartime Ger­many might­ily im­pressed by the de­struc­tion of Ber­lin, burn­ing brightly in the dis­tance.

As an adult, she is ob­sessed with record­ing ran­dom sounds, os­ten­si­bly for use in her mu­sic but re­ally part of a quest to re­dis­cover those child­hood noises, what she archly called “the sound of de­feat.”

“Nico, 1988” starts two years ear­lier than that date, with the heroin-us­ing singer, her iconic blond hair now dyed black, en­joy­ing liv­ing in the Bri­tish city of Manch­ester be­cause, she tells a ra­dio in­ter­viewer, it re­minds her of bombed-out Ber­lin after the war.

What Christa doesn’t en­joy but has learned to tol­er­ate are disc jock­eys and fans who only want to talk about the quite dis­tant time with the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, a pe­riod that the film makes vis­ual ref­er­ences to oc­ca­sion­ally with footage taken by ven­er­a­ble un­der­ground film­maker Jonas Mekas.

Though in­dif­fer­ent to fame — “I don’t need every­body to like me, I don’t care” — Christa is de­ter­mined to cre­ate and play mu­sic, and we meet her try­ing out new man­age­ment in the per­son of low-key Richard (Scot­tish ac­tor John Gor­don Sin­clair).

Though she be­lieves “young peo­ple are bor­ing,” Christa puts to­gether a rag­tag band of youth­ful ston­ers to ac­com­pany her on a Euro­pean tour from hell that Richard mas­ter­minds to help pro­mote her mu­sic.

Typ­i­cal of the stops is Anzio, Italy, where hotel rooms do not ma­te­ri­al­ize and every­one has to crash at a ran­dom house. Christa, whose main pas­sion­ate at­tach­ment ap­pears to be to food, puts away the daunt­ing com­bi­na­tion of pasta and limon­cello while pro­claim­ing with be­liev­able gusto, “I love eat­ing so much.”

More sat­is­fy­ing mu­si­cally but a com­plete dis­as­ter be­cause of po­lice in­ter­fer­ence is a stop be­hind the Iron Cur­tain in Prague, where an en­thu­si­as­tic crowd gath­ers with­out ben­e­fit of pub­lic­ity be­fore be­ing dis­persed by the au­thor­i­ties.

If Christa has a re­gret in her life, it is her sep­a­ra­tion from her now-adult son Ari (San­dor Fun­tek), ap­par­ently fa­thered by, though the name is never men­tioned, French star Alain Delon and liv­ing a life with its own set of dif­fi­cul­ties.

Though “Nico, 1988’s” band-on-the-run story line — com­plete with ro­man­tic mis­ad­ven­tures — has its stan­dard el­e­ments, the singer her­self was never stan­dard is­sue, and when­ever the fo­cus is on Dyrholm’s per­for­mance, which is most of the time, it is on com­pelling ground.

Mag­no­lia Pictures

TRINE DYRHOLM’S bravura per­for­mance pow­ers “Nico, 1988,” which in­cludes the in­flu­en­tial singer go­ing on a hellish tour in Europe.

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