Nico came to fame as part of Andy Warhol's circle of hangers-on who he turned into celebrities, and now, in 1986, she is still trying to live that down and establish herself as a talent in her own right. Now in her late forties, she travels around Europe from her base in Manchester in the North of England, which she says she likes because it reminds her of the bombed-out buildings of her home city of Berlin, back when she was a little girl during the Second World War. She remains a cult figure, and much of that rests on her connection to Warhol and the band he founded, The Velvet Underground, but she is scraping a living and has recently released an album to publicise...
If you know anything about Nico, or Christa as she preferred to be called (her birth name, as highlighted in a pointed scene), then you will be aware she did not live to see the nineteen-nineties, and further than that the 1988 referred to in the title was her last year on Earth. Although it is impossible to separate her legend, if you can call it that, from the heady days of the sixties when she recorded that classic album with Lou Reed and company, here was an attempt to do precisely that, a curious endeavour setting out to establish her in her own right, and the references to twenty years before were relegated to documentary footage of the real Nico, snippets from Jonas Mekas.
These clips were in no way illuminating, and if you didn't recognise her you may have been wondering who that blonde young woman was in the colourful flashbacks, assuming you knew they were flashbacks, but writer and director Susanna Nicchiarelli made the present of the mid-to-late eighties colourful too, acknowledging the gaudiness of the decade. However, it was, if you were not having fun, a morally dark decade too, and that tension where you could go out of an evening and just dance was tempered by those who stayed in of an evening and got their kicks from injecting heroin, which is precisely what the subject of this biopic did, a habit she had laboured under for years.
Ever since the time when she first came to prominence, and that awareness that almost everyone who became famous in Warhol's clique back then suffered the same fate, many not making it to their autumn years, was a heavy weight on every scene we saw here. Andy himself appeared in those vintage clips, right at the beginning, making clear his influence as a double-edged sword for he was both an enabler and an angel of death for anyone who strayed into his orbit and caught his eye as potential "Superstar" material. Nico in this is evidence that even with the passage of many years, a person in her past who had so much responsibility for what she became could be so degrading that their effects on that character will never be shifted: some people never get over their younger days.
You may argue nobody really does, yet while Nico here claims she doesn't mind being older, at least middle aged, the experiences of those times have taken their toll. Much of the film concerned Nico's concert tours, consisting of small venues, interviews with local journalists who insist on dredging up The Velvet Underground no matter her protests, and shooting up to get through both the shows and the periods between them. Some of this was bleakly amusing, which helped you get through what was after all a tale of slow self-destruction, but when we are shown Nico's son Ari (Sandor Funtek) who thanks to her being totally fucked up is totally fucked up himself, we can recognise there is a cycle of destruction that visits itself on each new generation. John Gordon Sinclair played her manager with a wavering Manchester accent, and her band was made up of no-hopers, but thanks to Nico being one of those people who other people constantly wonder what they are thinking, Dyrholm's lived-in, granite-faced yet spaced out performance was an apt tribute since you are interested to find out what she'll say next. Though she was probably thinking about that bloody drug.