Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Ali and Nino: Transcaucasia Romance
the fall of the Czar, Azerbaijan’s shining glory years as an independent state
only lasted twenty-three months, from 1918 to 1920, before Lenin reconquered
the South Caucasian nation. It was very definitely a case of blood for oil—Azerbaijani
blood for Soviet oil. They were no match for the Soviet army, but they still
did not give up without a fight. Tragedy is therefore the logical end for
Azerbaijan’s most celebrated literary lovers, whose story is dramatized for the
screen in Asif Kapadia’s English language production, Ali and Nino (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
under the mysterious pseudonym Kurban Said,
the novel Ali and Nino could be
considered the Azerbaijani Doctor Zhivago,
except in this case Yuri and Lara wed and have a few good years together. These
star- and history-crossed lovers are a mixed-religious couple. Nino Kipiani is
the Orthodox Christian daughter of Georgian nobleman. Ali Khan Shirvanshir is the
somewhat westernized son of wealthy Muslim patriarch. They are in love, but
both their fathers are hesitant to consent, for religious reasons—and the initial
combustion of WWI gives them both an excuse to forestall a final decision.
Shirvanshir’s hand is forced when his covetous friend Melik Nachararyan kidnaps
Princess Kipiani, in hopes of forcing marriage (and himself) upon her.
Shirvanshir upholds his honor with respect to Nachararyan, but he does not
merely spare Kipiani. He finally marries her.
a while, the married couple lives a happy life of hardscrabble seclusion, but
the grand events of the early Twentieth Century will interrupt their bliss.
Although the Shirvanshir family is reasonably progressive, Kipiani chafes under
the restrictive Persian norms when forced to take refuge in Iran. We definitely
see a clash of civilizations within the framework of their marriage, even
though it is a loving union. However, Kapadia and screenwriter Christopher
Hampton certainly suggest Muslim Azerbaijan and Christian Georgia were on good
terms during their brief sovereignty, between the misrule of the Czar and the
Kapadia’s work as a documentarian, especially his Oscar winning Amy, has overshadowed his narrative films,
but he has a firm handle on the sprawling, cross-cultural canvas of Ali and Nino. He establishes the various
sociological and geo-political ins and outs of this rather fraught
Transcaucasia region quickly and economically. Production designer Carlos Conti
and his art team also craft a lush, classy period look for the film, nicely
matched by Dario Marianelli’s sweeping score.
Adam Bakri is really a cold fish as a leading man. Spanish actress María
Valverde fairs better opposite him as the forceful and comparatively
independent-thinking (by 1920 standards) Kipiani. Not surprisingly, Mandy
Patinkin is believably old world as Prince Kipiani, but Connie Nielsen looks awkwardly
out of place as his regal wife. In contrast, the Turkish Halit Ergenç adds an
air of commanding authenticity as Fatali Khan Khoyski, independent Azerbaijan’s
first Prime Minister.
Despite a weak co-lead, Ali and Nino is an appealingly old fashioned historical, depicting
a region and era that have been largely neglected by world cinema. It suggests
sources of future macro level déjà vu, without belaboring the point. We just
find ourselves wanting it to be more passionately enthralling than it is, a la David Lean's Zhivago. Recommended for fans of exotic epics,
Ali and Nino opens this Friday
(11/18) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Asif Kapadia