The real identity of the author of the exotic love story Ali & Nino has been the subject of much speculation ever since the book was first published in Vienna in 1937. With its recent translation into English and its subsequent "rediscovery," the controversy has grown. (Indeed no pen name has aroused so much curiosity since The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and other books signed "B. Traven" launched a decades-long inquiry into the man behind that pseudonym.) Sometimes dubbed "the Romeo and Juliet of the Caucasus," Ali & Nino tells the story of a pair of lovers from neighboring Caucasian lands -- a Christian girl from Georgia and a Muslim boy from Azerbaijan -- set against the turmoil of early 20th Century Baku. It ends tragically with the young man's death and with Russia's occupation of the Caucasus and displays a remarkably acute knowledge of the interaction between two ancient cultures. As Paul Theroux has commented, "This wonderful novel, beautifully constructed, vivid and persuasive, a love story at once exotic and familiar, is living proof that art is indestructible and transcendent."
The pseudonym "Kurban Said" was, it turns out, possibly shared by two people, one an Austrian baroness, Elfriede Ehrenfels, and the other a Jewish émigré from Azerbaijan, Lev Nussimbaum, who had converted to Islam, taken the name Essad Bey, and lived in Berlin and Vienna. The director hunts downs surviving relatives and acquaintances of these two people, and conducts engrossing interviews with several of them.