If you know the name Nico at all, it’s from a brief moment in time in the 1960s when she collaborated with Lou Reed on the iconic “The Velvet Underground & Nico” album and was anointed by the media as the epitome of hipster cool.
But Nico’s creative life didn’t end when her association with the band did. She kept making influential music though of a dark, tormented, edgy kind that resisted both categorization and commercial success.
In “Nico,1988,” Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli had the shrewd idea of dramatizing the last year of the life and work of the singer, who preferred to go by her given name of Christa.
Better than that, she cast the bravura Danish actress Trine Dyrholm, whose credits include the groundbreaking “The Celebration” and the miniseries “The Legacy,” to play Christa/Nico in all her magnificent contradictions.
Dyrholm, an actress of formidable presence who expertly handles her own singing as well as the acting, gives a strong, truthful, unflinching performance that powers the film the way Christa’s energy powered the bands she was in those late days.
Written as well as directed by Nicchiarelli, who interviewed numerous people who knew the singer, “Nico, 1988" has elements of farce as well as those of tragedy.
Neither surprising, finally, from a woman who says “I have been on the top, I have been on the bottom, and both places are empty.”
The first time we see Christa is as a child in wartime Germany mightily impressed by the destruction of Berlin, burning brightly in the distance.
As an adult, she is obsessed with recording random sounds, ostensibly for use in her music but really part of a quest to rediscover those childhood noises, what she archly called “the sound of defeat.”
“Nico, 1988" starts two years earlier than that date, with the heroin-using singer, her iconic blond hair now dyed black, enjoying living in the British city of Manchester because, she tells a radio interviewer, it reminds her of bombed-out Berlin after the war.
What Christa doesn’t enjoy but has learned to tolerate, are disc jockeys and fans who only want to talk about the quite distant time with the Velvet Underground, a period the film makes visual references to occasionally with footage taken by venerable underground filmmaker Jonas Mekas.
Though indifferent to fame — “I don’t need everybody to like me, I don’t care” — Christa is determined to create and play music, and we meet her trying out new management in the person of low-key Richard (Scottish actor John Gordon Sinclair.)
Though she believes “young people are boring,” Christa puts together a ragtag band of youthful stoners to accompany her on a European tour from hell that Richard masterminds to help promote her music.
Typical of the stops is Anzio, Italy, where hotel rooms do not materialize and everyone has to crash at a random house. Christa, whose main passionate attachment appears to be to food, puts away the daunting combination of pasta and limoncello while proclaiming with believable gusto, “I love eating so much.”
More satisfying musically but a complete disaster because of police interference is a stop behind the Iron Curtain in Prague, where an enthusiastic crowd gathers without benefit of publicity before being dispersed by the authorities.
If Christa has a regret in her life, it is her separation from her now-adult son Ari (Sandor Funtek), apparently fathered by, though the name is never mentioned, French star Alain Delon and living a life with its own set of difficulties.
Though “Nico, 1988’s” band-on-the-run story line — complete with romantic misadventures — has its standard elements, the singer herself was never standard issue and whenever the focus is on Dyrholm’s performance, which is most of the time, it is on compelling ground.
Rated: R, for drug use, language and some sexuality
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Playing: Starts Friday, Landmark Nuart, West L.A.; Aug. 10, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena, NoHo 7, North Hollywood