There was no other voice like hers. Alluring in its detached European iciness, it seemed to reflect and radiate sadness, and yet it also evoked vulnerability and carried a strange soothing quality. Later in her life, after years of smoking, drugging and boozing had taken their toll, it could also unintentionally approximate the tortured moans of a slowly dying moose, and I’d still rather hear it than anything playing on the radio dial at this moment.
Made with the cooperation of her son, this movie is based on the last two years of German singer Nico’s life, by which time she was a schlumpy junkie mess who didn’t want to talk about Lou Reed or the Velvet Underground (even though she continued to perform their songs) and didn’t even want to be called Nico (“Call me by my real name: Christa,” she instructs her manager early in the film). Still, it could be argued that the droning sound and bleak mood of her post-VU work is more “Velvet Undergroundy” than most anything the other ex-members of that band made (though some of that is surely due to the frequent collaboration of John Cale), and indeed, in its own way it, too, had an influence on a certain pocket of post-punk acts of the late ’70s and ’80s.
Danish actress and singer Trine Dyrholm does a superbly uncanny job portraying Nico in all her volatile, smacked-out unpredictability, from eruptions of unstable horribleness to moments of unguarded tenderness and regret. And yes, that’s Dyrholm singing (wonderfully) all the songs in the movie, recorded with Italian group Gatto Ciliegia contro il Grande Freddo – so, no, Nico never (to my knowledge) covered Alphaville. Although that might’ve been pretty cool.
“I really don’t care about music anymore,” she tells an interviewer late in the movie. “I’ve been on the top. I’ve been on the bottom. Both places are empty.” Still, one has to wonder if, had she lived a few more years, successfully kicked heroin and alcohol and began treating herself better (it was a process she was reportedly beginning to undertake in the months before her fatal heart attack while bicycling in Ibiza), she’d have rejoined John, Lou, Sterling and Moe for that short-lived VU reunion. All indications point to no, but as this movie makes plain, she was a mystery, and you never quite knew how she’d react to anything.