By Margaret Barton-Fumo in the July-August 2018 Issue
Known primarily as the blonde chanteuse for Andy Warhol’s The Velvet Underground—a short stint that only produced three songs—the German singer, model, and actress Nico recorded many albums throughout the 1970s and ’80s, up until her death in 1988 at the age of 49. Director Susanna Nicchiarelli’s latest film, Nico, 1988, focuses on the final couple of years of Nico’s life, illuminating a point in her career that is rarely discussed.
Nico’s post-Velvets solo music is intense and brooding, with her deep voice booming out over her droning harmonium. Her lifestyle from the 1960s onward was decidedly bohemian, anti-fame, and addled by years of heroin use. Danish actress Trine Dyrholm convincingly imitates both Nico’s speaking and singing voice, even though Dyrholm’s appearance requires some suspension of disbelief. Her facial features and Nico’s are simply different, although Dyrholm is excellent in the role. She captures Nico’s essential nonchalance while forming a captivating portrait of early aging and addiction.
“Based on a true story and on facts referred by direct witnesses” according to the credits, Nico, 1988 is an effective tour diary, its most uplifting point being an uncharacteristically energetic performance of “My Heart Is Empty,” presumably drawn from the depths of heroin withdrawal. Nicchiarelli’s modest production makes good use of the resources at hand, interspersed with snippets of Jonas Mekas’s home movies.
Margaret Barton-Fumo is the editor of Paul Verhoeven: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and a longtime contributor to Film Comment.