The Austin Chronicle

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam

Rated PG, 95 min. Directed by Kayvan Mashayekh. Starring Bruno Lastra, Moritz Bleibtreu, Rade Serbedzija, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Simpson, Marie Espinoza, Adam Echahly, Puya Behinaein, C. Thomas Howell.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 23, 2005

Houston-based, Iranian-born filmmaker Mashayekh seeks to expose the broader public to the story of the pioneering 11th-century mathematician, astronomer, and poet, and thereby remind Western audiences (who tend to be forgetful about these things) that there’s more to Iran and the Middle East than suicide bombers and hummus. It’s a noble undertaking: We owe not only our system of time measurement to the Persian polymath but also much of our science and art. It may sound like a stretch but it’s all too probable: If not for Khayyam’s breathtaking breakthroughs in cubic equations and algebra, there’d have been no first man on the moon and, minus his equally fine ear for a handsome turn of phrase, no Rubaiyatt. No loaf of bread, jug of wine, or thou? It’s a pretty persuasive argument for the reintroduction of Khayyam’s life and work to the currently media-supersaturated mindset. Mashayekh’s film is no epic poem, however, although it tries mightily to be so. Shot in Uzbekistan, in the same area where Khayyam once lived, and Houston, where the film’s ponderous modern storyline takes place, The Keeper suffers from a surfeit of scattershot acting and clunky narrative devices that usher the viewer back and forth through time with all the subtlety of a culture clash. Bromides abound in the tale of the scholarly Khayyam (Lastra) and his friendship and eventual break with best friend and confident Hassan Sabbah (Simpson) over the lovely slave girl Darya (Espinoza). Called to court by the Sultan Malikshah (Bliebtreu), who seeks an astrological adviser before the coming Crusades, Khayyam struggles to obey his three guiding principles of manhood – shoot straight, ride well, never tell a lie – while also keeping his considerably secular head as those around him consistently lose theirs. Meanwhile, back in Houston, the dying Nader (Behinaein) regales his 12-year-old brother Kamran (Eschahly) with the story of the life and times of the great man. The wraparound storyline is unnecessary and continually interrupts the vastly more interesting story of Khayyam’s history. Still, Mashayekh’s film is notable for its breathtaking Uzbek scenery, much of which remains as it was when soaring amongst the stars was but a dream in a Persian poet’s eye.

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