RETRO REVIEW: Don’t Call Me Nico, Reviewing NICO, 1988

Posted on: Sep 6th, 2018 By:

by Brooke Sonenreich
Contributing Writer

NICO (2018); Dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli; Starring Trine Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca; Opens Friday, Sept. 7 at the Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

“Don’t call me Nico. Call me by my real name: Christa,” says the disheveled, 45-year-old Danish actress, Trine Dyrholm who plays Nico in NICO, 1988.

The film is a biopic of the last two years of the life of Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico from The Velvet Underground. However, the story is an authentic representation of a time long after Nico’s involvement with The Velvet Underground. It’s a look at Christa’s middle-aged debauchery as she tours through Europe with a group of amateur bandmates. In between driving through beautiful roads, the artist participates in interviews that often bore her with questions concerning her being Lou Reed’s femme fatale. She seems annoyed at, if not completely oblivious to, the fact that without The Velvet Underground her solo rock career wouldn’t be as successful as it is. Indeed, it is her spot in 1960s history that makes her important to her fans more than anything else.

She makes a respectable point though when speaking at an Italian press conference: “Well, I only sang three songs with them. The rest of the time I was playing the tambourine in the background. I did the same thing when I was a model; I was there for my image. Look, my life started after the experience with The Velvet Underground.”

The film moves slowly through Christa’s ups and downs on the road, sometimes following her into the bathroom as she brazenly shoots up heroin into her bruised ankle. Still, it moves through these spaces with little judgment.

Trine Durholm in NICO 1988, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Often times director, Susanna Nicchiarelli, oscillates between archived footage from Nico’s time with Andy Warhol’s stylish gang to the late 1980s moments of her on stage at various European venues. In contrast to the archived footage of her youth, the singer now shamelessly indulges in food and alcohol. She celebrates her unkempt look as she confidently states, “I’ve been on the top, I’ve been on the bottom; both places are empty.”

Perhaps the most memorable scene is after the star does heroin in a club restroom. She enters the stage to perform the song “Nature Boy” with the backing of an Italian jazz band. It’s a solemn rendition of the song and it conjures up emotions regarding her estranged, suicidal son Christian Aaron Päffgen, or “Ari.”

The film picks up when Ari joins the tour for quality time with his estranged mother. In a rare moment of desperation, when Christa is doing methadone in a room next door, Ari slits his wrists and winds up in a foreign hospital. Here we voyeuristically experience the downside of the Päffgen family’s drug use. Despite Christa’s seamless ability to perform while on heroin, the drugs have infected her and her son’s lives in ways that become more visible than the bruises on her ankle.

The conclusion is weak compared to the rest of the film, if only because of its lazy reliance on end title cards to inform us of the star’s actual death. Nevertheless, even though the biopic is slow moving, it stands well as an entertaining and thorough look at Christa’s last moments in the limelight.

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RETRO REVIEW: DEMON Clings to the Screen, and Then to Your Soul

Posted on: Sep 15th, 2016 By:

Demon_poster_finalDEMON (2015); Dir. Marcin Wrona: Starring Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, Andrzej Grabowski; Opens Friday, September 16 at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Brooke Sonenreich
Contributing Writer

Before arriving to Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Marcin Wrona’s DEMON had its Atlanta premiere at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Intrigued by Jewish mysticism, body horror and my own Polish-Jewish roots, I went into this movie with a fresh curiosity. DEMON is set in contemporary Poland, but within a small village that is still recuperating from Nazi occupation. Before attending to the characters, Wrona posits the spectator in the abandoned parts of this Polish town. Before any indication of a character being possessed, Wrona privies us to the haunting of the location with opening images of rundown, abandoned ghettos.

DEMON is a dybbuk story, and the most complex and intriguing one I have ever followed. In Jewish mysticism, if a Jewish body has not been properly buried it remains in purgatory. However, the soul can latch onto a living soul in order to carry out its business. Quite literally, the word dybbuk means to cling.

For Piotr (Israeli Jewish actor Itay Tiran) the dybbuk attaches to his soul the night before he marries Zaneta, a Polish woman whose family is still a group of strangers to Piotr. As the possession takes over his ability to speak and his overall motor skills, questions about the village and its Jewish past bubble to the surface. However, the cling of the dybbuk only strengthens and the dybbuk’s Jewishness begins seeping out of Piotr through shared memories, language, and voice.

(Left to Right) - Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Cezary Kosinski in DEMON. Used with permission.

(Left to Right) – Itay Tiran, Agnieszka Zulewska, and Cezary Kosinski in DEMON. Used with permission.

My first viewing of DEMON was followed by the realization that it would be in a cycle of festivals before being distributed for at least another year. But I left the theater feeling haunted myself and made it to the other screenings in hopes of retaining as much of this film as possible before it was passed to the next festival. The film’s arrival at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema should not go unnoticed. It is a film that resonates months after the first viewing and, much like how the dybbuk’s hold on the spirit only strengthens, DEMON has the ability to cling to its beholder.

On the day of the film’s screening in Poland, Wrona committed suicide, and even if the film is watched in a loop, there is an unanswerable question that continues to arise: Is Piotr the only haunted subject of DEMON?

Brooke Sonenreich is a film instructor and theorist. She likes sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers and staring at a bright wall for an extended period of time, and she has somehow made that into a job.

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