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Music

Revisit Nico's performance in French film 'Le berceau de cristal (1976)'

Nico was something else, wasn’t she? She regularly sang with great intent and interest, never underestimating the importance of the song in question. This is why she worked so well with The Velvet Underground, precisely because her voice shimmered with possibility and potential, never taking advantage of the song in question, or presenting it with nothing short of certainty or complexity. When Nico sang, she played with every inch of her emotion, and the songs gradually grew more interesting with every passing note and cadence.

“If I had a back-up group now,” she said in the 1970s, “I would do the old songs like ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’. I don’t think I would do ‘Femme Fatale'” she added.”Back then it was all right. It was a part I was playing. My hair was blonde and I”. This fragmented approach to interviews was part of the visualisation of work which was growing more popular as the decade wore on.

Nico was also an actress of some repute, which is why the singer performed in a number of films, the best of which is probably Le Berceau de Cristal, an uncompromising French feature that finds the lead singer in a project done in close collaboration with director Philippe Garrel. The film is set to an evocative soundtrack by Ash Ra Tempel, who was told to write music to “make you dream”.

In one striking sequence, the camera lingers on the singer turned actress in mid smoke, tuned to the beats of her inner rhythm, quietly contemplating the puff from the implement in front of her. The footage captures the woman at her most serene, sincere and beautiful, never underestimating her desire to pull at the cigarette, drifting away from the world at large in an effort to get a strong whiff of smoke.

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Deeply moving, the film is nonetheless concentrated on the quality of the scenery, never underestimating the value of the style or the situation, sticking to the importance of the moment in question. Where the cigarette captures the singer at her most valuable and venerable, the smoke also shows the singer at her most relaxed and engaged.

Indeed, the entire film focuses on the engagement of the relaxation, never underestimating the exaltation or the energy of the work in question. It’s hard to imagine a British director capturing the singer with such conviction, but luckily the film is deeply European, understanding that the work in question comes from a meditative, melancholic place of understanding and aspiration.

European cinema needs great danger to realise its potential, which is possibly why it caters to a more discerning audience who aren’t so easily fooled by bravura or racing, turbo-charged car chases that are purportedly done in the name of family. Nor is it the tawdry, tiring displays of lewd inner dialogues serving no one but the director’s shallow ego, but rather aims to allow the viewer into the journey unfolding before their very eyes.
Where it stumbles is in its lack of narrative, but the plot is rarely the most essential to grand cinema viewing, and the differences between the stylistic workouts that make up much of the French oeuvre are often contrasted with the more stale offerings its British counterparts have to offer.

Le Berceau de Cristal is a triumph of feeling over form, never underestimating the importance of the moment in place of a more grandstanding presentation of visual splendour. And Nico- the avant-gardist who had ventured from rock into baroque – is all the better for her association with the film.