Junkie chanteuse

  • by David Lamble
  • Wednesday August 8, 2018
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Trine Dyrholm as the title character in "Nico, 1988." Photo: Magnolia Pictures
Trine Dyrholm as the title character in "Nico, 1988." Photo: Magnolia Pictures

"Nico, 1988" is a sad, silly tale about a boho recording star whose heroin-fueled demise was predictable, and for whom you may feel a dollop of sympathy once the credits have rolled. The film, whose denizens are never without a lit cigarette, may have established a new record for second-hand smoke on-set.

The 1960s album "The Velvet Underground & Nico" boasted a handful of terminally hip tracks with lyrics by Lou Reed. The album showcased the German-born underground singer who made listening to ballads about heroin addiction seem innocent.

"Nico, 1988" opens on a close-up of a middle-aged woman smoking a long cigarette, sitting in front of an RCA DX microphone in a radio studio with walls tinted pastel green. The film, which mixes satire, parody, and harsh scenes of Communist-occupied Eastern Europe with an off-kilter sense of of nostalgia, comes into focus in this chat between a cranky, aging Nico and a peppy Manchester, England radio host.

"So here we are with Lou Reed's femme fatale."

"Don't call me that! I don't like it."

"We're all really proud that a big star like you is living here in Manchester, not Paris or New York."

"This reminds me of Berlin after WWII, when it was all in ruins. I like that."

"Do you want to tell us about your experiences with the Velvet Underground?"

"No, I don't. I started making my own music after the experience with the Velvet Underground, in 1968."

"1968, that's almost 20 years ago. Those must have been some of the best days of your life?"

"Well, we took a lot of LSD."

"Nico, 1988" comes off like a lost work from the late German sadist Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In one effective sequence, Nico and her pickup band are set to play to a young crowd in what would soon become the Czech Republic. The enthusiastic young concert promoter tries to explain the penalties for him and his friends if the police catch wind of the event. While Nico is onstage singing up a storm, the young man and his friends are arrested. Nico is led to safety, unconcerned about the havoc in her wake.

Writer-director Susanna Nicchiarelli pulls off her sendup with a cast of Euro celebrities headed up by Trine Dyrholm doing a spooky, mood-swinging impression of the over-the-hill lounge singer born Christa P�ffgen. The other scene-stealing role, Nico's close friend Richard, is a small gem of a portrayal from John Gordon Sinclair. "Nico, 1988" devotes its 93 minutes to depicting the final year of Nico's life, as she attempts to tour while coping with heroin addiction, hers and that of her adorable teen son, whose overdose is a major plot point. (Opens Friday.)