“Ali and Nino” aspires to epicness and comes pretty close to getting there.
Based on a 1937 novel, this romance centers on two lovers, Ali (Adam Bakri), a Muslim, and Nino (María Valverde), a Christian, in Azerbaijan and Tbilisi, Georgia, in the 1910s. Their marriage hopes are first thwarted by Nino’s parents (Connie Nielsen and Mandy Patinkin), then by Ali’s involvement in an act that forces him to flee to a mountain village.
After reuniting, the couple are later separated by the Soviet invasion of Azerbaijan. Ali, who declined to fight in World War I, becomes determined to battle the invaders, even at the risk of his life.
Mr. Bakri and Ms. Valverde have chemistry — their dance sequences at the beginning and end are especially lovely, as is everything else onscreen, from the majestic shots of highlands and deserts to the interiors of lavish homes. Asif Kapadia, the director (whose film “Amy” won an Oscar for best documentary), has a fine eye for splendor, as does Gokhan Tiryaki, his cinematographer.
Mr. Kapadia’s sense of pacing isn’t as acute. Each scene, whether showing love, war or chase, is dutifully delivered in the same tempo, as if this story were something to chew through rather than savor. A scene in which dynamite is planted has nearly the same urgency as a dinner conversation, and affection is in greater supply than passion.
“Ali and Nino,” adapted by Christopher Hampton (“Atonement,” “Dangerous Liaisons”) and shot in Azerbaijan and Turkey, rarely chooses a complex emotion when a straightforward one will do, though it does seek out ornate and grand images. Sure, beauty only gets you so far, but here that’s quite a long way.