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NICO, 1988: 3 STARS. “a gloomy film about the power of art as a survival tactic.”

Memory and regret hang heavy over “Nico, 1988,” an uncompromising biopic detailing the last years of 1960’s Velvet Underground icon Christa Päffgen a.k.a Nico (Trine Dyrholm).

Long removed from the New York City scene and band that made her a legend, Nico, who now prefers to be called by her real name Christa, is touring across Europe with an uninspired band and her drug-addicted son (Sandor Funtek).

Voice ravaged by hard living and heroin, she is unpredictable and unhappy. Her efforts to forge a new phase of her career are sidelined by an overwhelming interest in her legendary career. “Didn’t she sleep with one of the Rolling Stones? Which one was it? The one that drowned?” What about her work with The Velvet Underground? The ghosts of her past haunt her.

“Nico, 1988” is a gloomy film about the power of art as a survival tactic. Her life in shambles, Christa persists because she has something left to say, even if there aren’t many people interested in listening. As such, the movie works best in the moments when it allows her the chance to express herself. Not the diva behaviour, disrupting a restaurant in search of drugs or berating those around her, but letting her true spirit soar. To watch her sing “My Heart is Empty” in front of an Iron Curtain audience who risked arrest to see her perform is a galvanising moment in the film. Pure rock and roll passion filtered through anger, hurt and a desire to be heard. It’s the movie’s best scene, a sequence of catharsis that brings this portrait of a seemingly cool, detached woman roaring to life.

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