DVD Movie Review: Ali and Nino

By Thom Compton 26.03.2018

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Ali and Nino (UK Rating: 15)

Historical dramas are always rife for the picking. Whether or not they are accurate portrayals, there's a ton of stories about bygone times floating around that can be downloaded to your phone or popped into your Blu-ray player. The problem is, historical dramas, even those based on literary masterpieces like Ali and Nino, aren't all that different from modern drama. Sure, no one in Azerbaijan in the 1910s was walking around gawking at their mobile phone screen or trying to juggle the hurdles of modern expectations and human sexuality, but the problems are all largely relatable. For Ali and Nino - released on DVD in the UK on 5th March via Thunderbird Releasing, and based on a 1937 novel - many of the familiar story problems are far to recognisable for their own good.

Ali (Adam Bakri, Omar) is a member of a very well-off family in Azerbaijan, and Nino is the princess of a Georgian family who live in the same area. More importantly, or so one might think, Ali is a Muslim and Nino (María Valverde, Exodus: Gods and Kings) a Christian. While this would naturally set up the film to be about two groups of different people coming together thanks to young love, this is hardly important to the plot, despite the way the film is pitched. Sure, when Ali asks Nino's father to marry her, it is a brief point of concern, and her mother refers to him as a Wild Muslim, but that's really about it. After the first 30 minutes or so, this fact is often relegated to the background, and the real problem becomes clear… or so it would seem, at least.

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Ali and Nino eventually begin to have real issues. World War I is beginning, and initially Ali has no interest in participating. He eventually comes to trust someone whose intentions are less than noble, and this certain someone tries to pull one over on Ali. Through all of this, Ali ends up banished from his city, his father concerned he may fall victim to violence in retribution for a rather haphazard decision he made earlier in the film. Ali does this a lot, and whether he is separated from Nino by the powers that be or his own goals, it's very difficult to feel sorry for him. He is often reckless, and performs something of a trick as the movie goes on.

See, normally, a character will start off serving himself, and eventually learn the error of his ways for the woman he loves. Now, it's debatable if anything Ali does is truly selfish. He is a patriot, and it's hardly fair or accurate to label someone willing to fight for their country as selfish. The problem is context, and the context is once Ali decides to fight for his country, Nino makes it clear she can't handle the idea that he may not come home. He seems to regress as the action goes on then, doing things he knows will end with them being separated, but always trying to give her some sort of excuse why he needs to do them. It's a conflicting message, and depending on who's watching it, he will either appear to be a great noble man or a reckless husband.

It's hard to ever say for sure, because the film crams so much into such a short runtime. While many flicks suffer because they overstay their welcome, Ali and Nino doesn't give it's interesting moral conflict anywhere near the time it needs to accurately simmer. This means that a lot of the interesting points fall into the background, and the film largely turns into a sort of glorified montage of events that never actually feel weighted. By the end, Nino is the most sympathetic character, and it's because you don't get any real time to understand Ali. His behaviour just feels needlessly painful for Nino, and a lot of the events unfolding around him lose their gravity completely. At one point, a battle is shown for all of 10 seconds, and that's not hyperbole. It's hard to care about the gravity of these events when they are treated as fleeting glimpses of a story that is much more interesting and far more conflicting, not only on the participants but the viewer, as well.

Sadly, Ali and Nino is a decent movie despite all of this. Sadly because, at the end of it all, it feels like the audience was granted momentary access to a series of heartbreaking moments in a young couple's life, without any substance to back them up. Why should people pity Ali if so much of the conflict is his fault? Okay, he didn't start the war, but he frequently does things that make everything harder on him and Nino.

Many of the other characters are equally difficult to like, and their actions are confusing. Nino's mother is, despite a very minimal amount of screen time, one of the earliest antagonists, or at least that's how she feels. Her words are awful, but she serves an excellent purpose. While Nino's father is largely an understanding man, she is short and waspy, like you might expect someone of her stature to be at that time. Ali's father is also barely a blip in the film, largely feeling like a balance by which Ali can justify the things he says and does. What's interesting is that despite these characters small screen time, they carry a tremendous amount of weight as it all goes on.

Rated 5 out of 10


The most frustrating thing about Ali and Nino is it should have worked. However, all of its interesting dynamics are jammed so tightly into such a short runtime that they have enough time to feel interesting, yet not enough time to be explored. The most confounding is Ali as a character, who, thanks to being barely explored to his full potential, comes off as a bad guy even when he shouldn't. It makes the whole experience like watching Nino's happiness slowly erode and never really getting to know why.

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