Sydney Film Festival Review: Nico, 1988 (Italy, 2017) shows the songstress left behind after all tomorrow’s parties

A bio-pic can be a tricky beast. When a person has achieved so much in their lifetime what part of the story do you focus on? If you’re Italian director, Susanna Nicchiarelli you eschew the obvious and omit the lauded days. Nicchiarelli instead focuses on later life and this is precisely the scene we are greeted with in Nico, 1988.

In the 1960s Nico AKA Christa Päffgen was at the top of the artistic game. The model was one of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. She was an integral part of The Velvet Underground, performing with the band and as a muse to Lou Reed. These glories are only offered in the briefest of glimpses in this film through short clips from archive super eight footage originally shot by Jonas Mekas.

Nico, 1988 is centred almost exclusively on the two years prior to Nico’s death. She did not want to discuss her period with The Velvet Underground even though the journalists who interviewed her tried to steer the conversation this way. Nico’s mindset was very much forward-thinking as she wrote and toured her then-new solo material. What follows is a film that’s a slow-burning bio-pic about the chapters that come after one disappears from the limelight.

Trine Dyrholm does an excellent job playing the older Nico. This version of the songstress is a mature woman who is grappling with heroin addiction and various inner demons. Her long-suffering manager (John Gordon Sinclair) believes that the answer to her troubles is to send the songstress out gigging on the road in what would be her final European tour. But her wounds ran deep; especially the difficult relationship she had with her adult son Ari (Sandor Funtek). She was forced to give him up when he was a kid.

Life can be messy and Nico’s one here is no exception. There are some great lines in this film, including one where Nico aspires to grow into an elegant, old lady. These offer the film a certain poignancy, something that is especially evident when Dyrholm sings an electric version of “My Heart Is Empty.” Dyrholm should be commended for doing such an amazing job of replicating Nico’s husky, dream-like vocals.

Nico, 1988 is a bittersweet drama and bio-pic. This is not one for the casual Velvet Underground fan because the focus is very much on the final chapter of this artist’s life, for better or worse. Nico, 1988 chronicles a musician who was determined to keep creating music and art long after all tomorrow’s parties had finished in what proved to be one trying curtain call.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Nico, 1988 is screening as part of Sydney Film Festival. Head HERE for more details.