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Review: Fiction proves challenging for director Asif Kapadia with WWI drama ‘Ali and Nino’

‘Ali and Nino’
María Valverde and Adam Bakri in “Ali and Nino.”
(IFC Films)

A skilled, artful way with nonfiction storytelling is no guarantee of success in the fictional realm. British director Asif Kapadia is proving a case study of that with his simplistic, airless World War I romance “Ali and Nino,” coming on the heels of his wrenching, Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary, “Amy.”

A love story between a Western-minded Azerbaijani Muslim (Adam Bakri) and a Christian princess (Maria Valverde) from neighboring Georgia, it boasts handsome, David Lean-inspired scope — it was filmed on location in Azerbaijan — and a screenplay by Christopher Hampton (adapting the pseudonymous 1937 Kurban Said novel).

But in detailing the various obstructions to this mixed marriage — a kidnapping, a ruined reputation (Mandy Patinkin and Connie Nielsen play Nino’s parents), religious constraints, the growing conflict in Europe, and Azerbaijan’s fight for independence from revolutionary Russia — Kapadia seems more enraptured by country-crossing movement and breathtaking locations than the details of two people in love.

Even Lean knew an exquisitely handled small-scale moment gave emotional oomph to the physical grandeur, but Kapadia treats intimacy like exposition — time-passage updates mark every scene — leaving his leads to flounder against backdrops. There’s zero chemistry or feeling to this sweeping, predictable endeavor, only the scent of what might have been.

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‘Ali and Nino’

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Not rated

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Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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