Nico, 1988


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Nico, 1988
"This is astonishing filmmaking."

It's hard to pick a favourite moment in a film, but Nico, 1988 is the kind where one might be inclined to do so. For much the same reason as I'm still so enamoured of the red square in Bryan Ferguson's Flamingo the way that Nico, 1988 handles 1987 is a treat. This in a film that's absolutely grounded in a particular time and set of places, but inflected with reminiscence, with longing, with archive - we're further now from Nico then than Nico then was from the Factory. "A band of amateur junkies" around her, but so much more besides.

It's the past, so everybody smokes. Heroin consumed in the Spanish style (lemon juice as solvent), methadone making folk sentimental. "I'd rather we talked about the present", says Chrysta (the names are important), but things have already changed. The realities of touring with addiction are well explored - a sequence where they try to score in Communist Czechoslovakia is a terrifyingly comic interlude that serves as excellent counterpoint to a haunting vision in a graveyard, a garden full of tortoises, a Berlin before the wall came down.

Copy picture

This is all digression, though, from the most important part of Nico, 1988, which is Trine Dyrholm's performance. She is astonishing. At least one of the trailers is her at a sound-check, in front of the band. That's her, singing. That's her, smoking. That's her, Nico. There are songs on the soundtrack that I'm not sure Chrysta covered herself, but I can't tell, it doesn't matter. There's a disclaimer, "for dramatic purposes", and as a tale of a life that was itself affected by creation that affect from creation works. They're her versions, but this is a collaboration - Dyrholm is a director herself, but this is Susanna Nicchiarelli's film - writing, directing, creating.

This is astonishing filmmaking, the kind that seeks to trap with (to borrow from another, era-similar iconoclastic front-person) "attention to the wrong detail"). There are big details (Dyrholm's performance, every muttery jangle of it) and small details (recording equipment) and then there is the film itself. In what I figured was about 4/3 (my thumb was off, it's 1.37:1), a choice that serves both to distance from convention and bring frame closer (Au Revoir L'Ete does similar things), there's a sense of disproportion. Throw in those time-signatures one might expect (and structurally the effects of age leave their mark), archive footage by Jonas Mekas, and then above it all, below it all, through it all, sound. Marc Bastien is credited but he's one of a department, and with its quality, the film opening with a sound, a very particular one, it's important.

That soundcheck has the snare brought up, but this is a masterclass of use of sound and sound design. From an early rumble whose character is too important to reveal until Nico, Chrysta, tells the story, the roar of jet, the rattle of vomit, the burble of a particular kind of Northern English sensibility as Wordsworth emerges from beneath John Gordon Sinclair's impressive moustache, but most and centrally, the music. There's much more here than the Velvet Underground, much more than a tambourine in the background, but it's by the quality of the sound that you can tell. There are some older stories here, artists and agents, sex and drugs and rock and roll, parents, families, and others. I was minded of a story about James Brown in his imperial hey-day, signalling his band at each dropped note, missed beat, whenever flat, each finger held up a dollar fine. This film is as slick, as driven, as focussed on quality, as strutting in its confidence as the hardest working man in showbusiness.

As soon as I had the chance I told my semi-reformed music journalist pal that he should see it, last night I told club-promoters of my acquaintance to go and see it (I'm still hungover), and I am telling you, if you are a fan of film or music, to go and see it.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2018
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Nico, 1988 packshot
Biopic of the German singer, who sang with the Velvet Underground

Director: Susanna Nicchiarelli

Writer: Susanna Nicchiarelli

Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Calvin Demba, Karina Fernandez, Sandor Funtek, John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca, Thomas Trabacchi

Year: 2017

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Italy, Belgium

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The Piano Teacher
Velvet Goldmine