Dark, dark, dark. Stéphane Delorme, currently the chief editor of Cahiers du Cinéma, writes of Nico’s face in this movie: “If it does catch the light it’s only to give it back to the darkness.”
Le berceau de cristal (Crystal Cradle, 1976) is director Philippe Garrel’s fifth or sixth consecutive film starring Nico, his compagne during the 70s. None of their collaborations are what you’d call pulse-pounding thrillers; they tend to unfold at the pace of a dream, or a ritual, or a junkie tying his shoes. But this is a special case. Making it to the end of this picture requires a kind of yogic discipline, like slowing your heart rate or raising your body temperature at will. Yet, if you can master your animal nature long enough to dig its glacial pace and scry its black mirror, you’ll discover that Le berceau de cristal is really a completely empty and depressing experience.
Dominique Sanda in Le berceau de cristal
As background for your fantasy goth or junkie death trip, however, it’s great. Dude: Nico’s in it. Some parts are even set to a gorgeous soundtrack by Ash Ra Tempel—Manuel Göttsching says Garrel asked him for “music to make you dream”—though much of it is as silent as the grave. When Nico’s voice finally does appear on the soundtrack, deadpanning an interior monologue that turns out to consist of the lyrics to “Purple Lips” and other songs from Drama of Exile, it’s been run through a reverb box set to “stony crypt.” French actress Dominique Sanda is also “in” it. So is Rolling Stones consort Anita Pallenberg, who is seen shooting up on camera.
Even to the very childlike, the timecode burned in along the bottom of the frame will suggest that this particular print may have come into existence under conditions which some might allege not to have been, shall we say, entirely lawful, so to speak. From the director’s “signature collection” it did not come. But there is no legit disc or digital release of Le berceau de cristal on the market, at least none that I can find, and I am reliably informed that this is a pretty clean copy by comparison with others in circulation.
I’ll say this for Le berceau de cristal: It creates a “mood.” Plus Nico’s in it!