Thursday, April 19, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Nico, 1988

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Nico, 1988
Directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli
Spotlight Narrative

More than any celebrity, musicians have the potential to become legendary. Many only experience their music by listening to it without seeing it sung live, while others have the unique opportunity to attend a show and see what the performance adds to the songs. When a musician dies either far too young or in a mysterious manner, their legacies are amplified exponentially for the untapped potential and the additional music they might have created had they been granted the time to do so.

Beginning in 1986, Nico (Trine Dyrholm), also known as Christa Päffgen, is hardly at the height of her career. Having attained fame for her work with The Velvet Undergound and as a favorite of Andy Warhol’s, the German singer, nearly fifty years old, finds her life crumbling as she spirals into drug addiction and struggles to keep custody of her troubled son. Her manager’s suggestion of a tour across Europe gives her some sense of purpose but also sets the stage for a tumultuous journey, one that enables select audiences to see just who Nico is and how intensely she gets into her particular brand of music and also hurtles her towards a premature end to her career.

Nico’s music can hardly be called melodic, a specifically stylized type of rock that demonstrates great passion and a certain kind of energy but isn’t always easy on the ears. This film strives for an accurate representation of how Nico interacted with the world, rarely interested in what others thought of her, particularly during performances when her behavior was less than ideal for public relations purposes or the reaction of an eager audience who didn’t want Nico to interrupt a set by storming off the stage. Though it’s hardly a flattering portrait, this film does give the sense that Nico was a layered and complicated personality, one who was difficult to understand, even with the context of her life experiences.

Dyrholm is a Danish actress and singer known for her work in films such as “In a Better World” and “Love Is All You Need.” Usually, she plays a friendlier, warmer kind of character, but here she is buried under considerable stress and dissatisfaction with her world experience, an effective if purposely uninviting turn. Her story is an intriguing but also dark one which, like Nico, has its mesmerizing moments but as a whole fails to truly spark. It’s a fine film, but not a well-rounded or deeply engaging portrait of this singer.


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