Like much of Nico's music, Susanna Nicchiarelli's Nico, 1988 is a funeral march, trudging toward the oblivion hinted at by the title. Most of it takes place two years before its subject's death, in 1986, when a now raven-haired Nico (played with an inquisitive weariness by the excellent Trine Dyrholm) tours Europe with a band of amateur musicians desperate for gigs. Some also are desperate for their next fix. We first see their leader shoot up in Manchester, England, while being shown a one-bedroom flat she'll be renting. Nico asks to use the restroom, and then, alone, pulls out the microphone of the tape recorder she carries everywhere and studies the room's ambiance. Apparently satisfied, she pulls a needle from her pack, taps it, then jabs it into her ankle.
At its best, Nicchiarelli's film, which is based on accounts from people who know Nico, summons up the presence of its subject, studying her behavior, allowing her her mysteries. What is she listening for on that recorder? When she nods off, heroin pulsing through her, what does she dream of? What does she make of the scraggly crowds who attend her shows? Nicchiarelli does offer some explanations, through flashbacks often less convincing than the film's '80s present. But she doesn't belabor her subject's regrets and never suggests that there's one key to understanding Nico's heart.
Dyrholm's performance works both as impersonation but succeeds most as an investigation, even a summation. Nico, 1988 offers all I want from this kind of movie: a sense of what time with someone unknowable might have been like.