Susanna Nicchiarelli • Director
“Sometimes you don’t have to tell the whole story”
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2017: Cineuropa talked to Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli, whose latest film, Nico, 1988, has won the Orizzonti Award for Best Film of the Venice Film Festival
In her third feature, Nico, 1988 [+see also:
interview: Susanna Nicchiarelli
film profile], which opened Orizzonti at the Venice Film Festival, Susanna Nicchiarelli focuses on the twilight years of Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico. Now, she tells Cineuropa why she decided to show the woman behind the icon.
Cineuropa: Most biopics tend to have the same structure: there is a concert, and then there are flashbacks. You chose not to repeat that.
Susanna Nicchiarelli: People always want to tell the whole story, but I believe it’s more interesting to only tell part of it, which is why I loved Last Days by Gus Van Sant. He decided to focus just on that: the last days of Kurt Cobain. Or take Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs [+see also:
film profile], showing these few moments of failure in the life of a man who succeeded a lot. When you want to tell the whole story, you just start repeating the same things. The other reason was that I felt it was the best part of her life. Instead of turning into this cliché of a woman regretting her days of fame and glamour, it was quite the opposite. Nico found her identity as an artist, a mother and a woman when she turned 40.
However, in the film, everyone seems to be interested only in her past – not the present.
You have to remember that she was a model. Back then, after a while, these women would just disappear. But I believe that the most important things happen when you are mature – there have been many women who have been famous for their beauty, but who still did amazing things later on in their lives. Nico struggled with this burden and the fact that she was being used for her image. Once she got rid of it, she gained more artistic freedom. I wanted to talk about the woman behind the icon because what happens away from the public eye is much more interesting. It’s the whole point of the movie.
Why did you decide to re-record her songs?
I didn’t want to imitate Nico – which, by the way, is another problem inherent in biopics. When you are actually looking for somebody who looks the same and you try to transform them into that person, acting becomes mechanical. I wanted to avoid that. I didn’t want to work with Trine Dyrholm because she looks the same – she doesn’t. I needed a good actress, and she is one of the best we have right now. She is the exact opposite of Nico, who was called a “princess of darkness”. So when we worked on the songs, we tried to find a new way of singing them. One that would fit Trine, not Nico.
Wasn’t that risky? Sometimes people want to see these stories precisely because they grew up with the artist and their music.
Yes, but then it’s not a film – just an imitation of life. In that case, you should just make a documentary, use the real footage and interview real people. I tried to work with imagination. Also, it’s difficult to approach Nico as a person – she was so serious and ironic. I like it when in the film a journalist asks her: “So the 1960s were the best period of your life?” And she says: “Well, we took a lot of LSD.” I liked the fact that she would diminish her past, even though everyone else would paint it as epic.
It’s strange that women who achieved so much are still being portrayed in relation to all the men in their lives.
I wasn’t interested in compiling a list of all the men she slept with. She was much more than that – she was a person. I knew that by concentrating on the final part of her life, I wouldn’t have to do that. I liked the idea of her being alone. When you are young, you are in a hurry. You are hungry for life and you make a lot of mistakes. But then you relax. Now that I have turned 40, too, I feel exactly the same. Nico wasn’t a pleaser. In the last interview in the film, she says: “I don’t need everybody to like me.” And that’s an important step for every artist because you can’t let judgements coming from other people shatter you into little pieces. I would love to be that brave one day.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.