November 29, 2018 – Nico, the attractive German platinum blonde who headlined the 1967 cult album “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” became an instant legend in pop culture. Less well known is Nico's real identity, and later career, as Christa Päffgen.
This dramatization of the last years of Christa's life as a middle-aged heroin addict, living on the road with a band, playing small gigs in Europe in 1987 and 1988, is not exactly uplifting. Gone is the blonde hair, gone are the glamorous looks that got her into the modeling business in her younger years. Gone is Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. What remains? That is the question the film poses.
In the film, Christa (played by Trine Dyrholm of “A Royal Affair”) has tired of being in the band. She doesn't want to perform anymore. She doesn't like being called by her earlier stage name, Nico. She wants to be reunited with her son, Ari (real name Christian Aaron Boulogne, played by Sandor Funtek) now in his mid-20s. He had traveled with his mother at an early age, but has since lived apart, with his grandparents.
Christa is a mercurial figure, not tethered to reality very securely. She dreams of touring with her son, who is a photographer. The trouble with that idea is that Christa, Ari, and a member of her band are all heroin addicts. It is not the best environment for Ari, who is being treated for addiction. But he goes on tour with the band anyway, and falls for the band's violin player, Sylvia (Anamaria Marinca of “Fury”). As you can imagine, bad things happen.
Christa has an affair with band member Domenico (Thomas Trabacchi) during the European tour. The band manager, Richard (John Gordon Sinclair) tells Christa that he is in love with her, and her reaction is completely dismissive.
Trine Dyrholm does a great job of playing Christa. She also sings Christa's songs in the film, although it appears the singing was recorded in a studio, not live, since the lip synch is off. Archival footage of the real Nico is edited into the film. These appear as memories or dream sequences.
In one strange sequence, Christa has her best performance at an outlawed concert in Eastern Europe, but has to be hustled out of the venue early when the authorities arrive unexpectedly. A haunting scene shows Christa as a child, watching the glowing night sky over the city of Berlin, burning at the end of World War II.
According to the film, this movie is based on eyewitness accounts of the events depicted. The film depicts Christa being more satisfied with herself as an ordinary-looking woman than she was as a youthful beauty. She does not care that her music is not popular. She is comfortable with herself, her art and her Bohemian lifestyle.
I can see why Christa would believe this to be true. But where would Christa be without that beauty, without that modeling career, without Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground? Probably nowhere, but this movie would have you believe otherwise. This film rates a C.
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