No segue. I’ve seen the trailer only once, and am a bit interested.
Apparently, Nico is the stage name of a German singer Christa Päffgen, who was prominent in the 60’s. I guess she had a lot of problems with alcohol, drugs, and was racist. She had her fair share of acting both on stage and in film, was a model, and I’m sure among other things. I think this movie takes place in her final year of life, as she passes away in 1988.
Here’s the cast. Starring as the titular woman is Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, known for stuff I’ve never seen or heard of. In support, we have Calvin Demba (KINGSMAN 2 ), Anamaria Marinca (GHOST IN THE SHELL ), Karina Fernandez (THE SENSE OF AN ENDING ), Sandor Funtek (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR ), and John Gordon Sinclair (WORLD WAR Z ).
Now for the crew. Both writer-director Susanna Nicchiarelli and editor Stefano Cravero are know for stuff that I’ve not seen or heard of. Making his debut as a composer is Gatto Ciliegia Contro il Grande Freddo. By God, that’s a long name. Finally, the cinematographer is Crystel Fournier, known for PARIS CAN WAIT (2017).
Overall, this could be good. I might even start listening to some of Nico’s music before it comes out and get a sense of what I’m getting into.
This is my honest opinion of: NICO, 1988
Set from 1986 to 1988. Christa Päffgen (Trine Dyrholm), or as the world knows her, Nico, is a singer currently touring around the globe for gigs, while balancing her life as a musician, who is addicted to heroin and often difficult to work with, and being a mother to her equally troubled son.
Hmm… this may be difficult to write about, but here we go.
Lets start with something easy. Dyrholm is absolutely fantastic as Päffgen. Now, I can’t claim to know exactly how Nico was, either on stage or in her interviews, but she is presented in a way that feels almost hauntingly raw. Like, I’m not watching an actress playing a part, but rather I’ve gone back in time and I’m looking through a window of the past and I’m seeing Päffgen right in front of me. Of course, this entirely because I haven’t the slightest idea of what the woman actually looks like, so I have nothing to compare to. But let’s say someone who was a huge fan of Nico back in the day came up to me and said that Dyrholm resembles nothing like Päffgen, then I will not argue. With that said, Dyrholm really brought forth a woman that feels real. She has no filter for the things she says. She is very open about people who ask her too many questions when she was with the band, Velvet Underground, back in 1968. She even has a racist side to her, constantly marginalizing Jews and their habits, even right in front of Richard, her… Manager? Publicist? I don’t care. She has outbursts on stage, yelling at her band mates, forgetting Laura’s (Karina Fernandez) name, loud tantrums when she’s suffering through withdrawal, the whole nine yards. She’s of course, a heroin addict, grossly injecting her ankle with the Devil’s poison. Hell, she thinks it’s absolutely normal to just do that shit right in front of people who are clearly not okay with seeing it. Even as a musician, she’s constantly talking about how she doesn’t care about the music anymore and wants to quit.
But as unhinged as she is, and as inconsiderate as she can be, there’s some happiness to her. You can see right into her when she says that she loves and misses her son, Christian Aaron “Ari” (Sandor Funtek). You believe her. Her face glows with absolute pride, or shifts to total sorrow when she talks about the circumstances of him not living with her. Also, she’s kinda funny. Like, she very nonchalantly says that she rarely showers to a dude. That got a giggle out of me. She has this radio interview and her interviewer brings up her Velvet Underground past and says that it must have been the best years of her life, to which she responds with, “Well, we took a lot of LSD.” Definitely laughed at that. She also has this hilarious speech about being an elegant old woman toward the end. It’s all a brilliant performance that perfectly balances that level consistency and contradiction. In short, it’s about as human a performance as it gets.
One of my favorite aspects to the movie is just how polarizing they made Nico out to be. Usually in biopics about bands, they love to showcase how popular they were with everyone. While I’m sure for some, that certainly was the case, should any band or musician on film be hit with “controversy,” it’s generally from conservatives who think the music is too extreme, or some such shit like that. But here, Nico isn’t even popular among her own behind-the-scenes crew. Laura downright hates Nico’s brand of music, but she still draws a decent crowd. Still, it’s acknowledged that her shows are played to smaller audience compared to decades past, but she doesn’t care for a number of reasons.
But now it’s time to move on to the negatives.
For starters, 1987 was completely unnecessary. It lasts, probably, a whole five minutes of the film’s ninety-three minute runtime and adds almost nothing to the narrative. Sylvia (Anamaria Marinca) and Alex (Calvin Demba) break up and he gets fired from the band, Ari starts flirting with her, and we found out that Christa stole Domenico’s (Thomas Trabacci) bracelet. Um… Riveting?
I feel like certain moments in the movie went nowhere, or nothing came of them. There’s a bit where Christa is talking to a reporter, journalist, whatever, and drops a really personal question that Christa recently tried to commit suicide, to which she responds with an uneasy affirmation. Uh, we don’t see that scene and it’s never referenced again. While I wouldn’t be surprised if those attempts on her life were true to the real life Päffgen, I can’t say that, as far as the narrative presented here, that it really impacted the story.
The flashbacks to her childhood weren’t all that necessary. I mean, fine, the first one where she’s a little girl staring at the horizon of a burning Berlin may be fine in its own right, but there’s only one more flashback like that and it doesn’t really add much. It’s like this movie knows without this padding, the movie would likely run under the ninety minute mark. But not by much, if you really think about it. Shorter, feature-length films have been released in theaters, but I won’t pretend that these filmmakers didn’t know that. It’s just a jarring and unnecessary addition.
Why didn’t the movie acknowledge that Päffgen sobered up at some point? If Wikipedia is to be believed, “Shortly before her death, Nico stopped using heroin and began methadone replacement therapy as well as a regimen of bicycle exercise and healthy eating.” I mean, sure, the movie stops well before her death on July 18, 1988, but it still would have been a nice addition to throw out there that she made an effort to clean herself up.
This next thing, I’m just going to leave as a big ole question mark, as I’m not entirely sure how intentional this was. With absolutely no offense to Dyrholm herself, but I don’t think she was a very good singer. Here’s the thing though, before seeing this movie, I did end up going onto Youtube to check out her music and get a sense of what I was in for. The only song I really got into was “I’m Not Sayin’.” The rest just felt off. Like, she was never a good singer, but her music was so “acid-trippy,” I guess, and she became something of a phenomenon. Wouldn’t surprise me, considering her addictions, but the point is that she wasn’t my cup of tea. So what that deliberate? Was Dyrholm trying to be a bad singer for some songs, and a good singer for others? If it was, then thumbs way up. If not, then I guess you can’t say that it’s not authentic. But then again, if this movie is any indication of what Christa was like, then she would likely tell me that she doesn’t care about my opinion. Hey, you gotta love a woman with an “I don’t give a fuck” mentality.
Overall, I have more than a few problems with the flick, I still think it’s pretty good. Dyrholm really holds up the movie with an incredibly complex performance and dives into a woman’s life in a very real and human way, which I appreciated the hell out of. Nothing felt over-the-top and nothing felt too dramatic. While I can see more than a few people calling it boring, and it’d be a little hard to convince them otherwise, what ultimately gets you through the film is how much you can stomach a more down-to-earth view of an artist’s life. I’m going to say that I recommend it. Maybe not necessarily as a theatrical release, though I dare you to find this in your local cinema, it’s probably best suited for a rental. It may not break any barriers, or do anything all that unique, but it’s a solid experience nonetheless. Not everyone will like this movie, but I doubt Nico cares. I, on the other hand, do.
My honest rating for NICO, 1988: 4/5
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