Lofty ambitions and unaffected sincerity are not quite enough to sustain "The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam," a reverentially pokey drama that plays less like a conventional movie than a lengthy series of hagiographic historical tableaux. But Kayvan Mashayekh's labor of love isn't likely to extend its appeal beyond niche auds during extended regional rollout.

Lofty ambitions and unaffected sincerity are not quite enough to sustain “The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam,” a reverentially pokey drama that plays less like a conventional movie than a lengthy series of hagiographic historical tableaux. First-time filmmaker Kayvan Mashayekh, a Houston-based Iranian emigre, earns praise for mounting a respectably attractive indie mini-epic on a limited budget. But this obvious labor of love isn’t likely to extend its appeal beyond niche auds during extended regional rollout. (Pic has been in sporadic theatrical release since last June.) Vid potential is equally limited.

Co-written by Mashayekh and Belle Avery, “Keeper” offers an episodic account of 11th century poet-astronomer Omar Khayyam (Bruno Lastra) over the several years he spent in Persia. (Pic was shot primarily in Uzbekistan.)

Plot emphasizes a romantic triangle formed by the “Rubaiyat” author and two childhood friends: Darya (Marie Espinosa), a beautiful slave girl; and Hassan Sabeth (Christopher Simpson), a religious zealot.

The none-too-compelling love story is easily overshadowed by political maneuverings as Sultan Malikshah (Moritz Bleibtreu), Khayyam’s admiring sponsor, copes with fanatical Muslims and Christian Crusaders. Pointed allusions to current events in the Middle East are the most intriguing aspects of an otherwise unexciting drama.

Pic feels strongly autobiographical as it periodically cuts to a parallel story of Khayyam’s 21st century descendant: 12-year-old Kamran (Adam Echahly), an Iranian emigre and Houston resident who assumes the traditional role of his family’s “keeper” (i.e., receiver and repeater of oral traditions) following the death of his older brother. To learn more about his famous ancestor, Kamran improbably finagles a solo trip to England, where he quizzes the heir (Vanessa Redgrave) of a bookbinder who published a famously lavish edition of the “Rubaiyat.”

The precocious youngster then flies off to Iran, for a sentimental reunion with a grandfather who completes his education. That isn’t easy to believe, either.

Redgrave is radiantly bemused during her fleeting cameo. Unfortunately, just about everyone else in the international cast is too self-consciously serious by half. Some auds may actually find themselves yearning for the Hollywoodish excess of Cornel Wilde, Michael Rennie and Raymond Massey in William Dieterle’s “Omar Khayyam” (1957).

Production values suggest Mashayekh could teach far more experienced filmmakers a thing or two about how to make every penny count.

The Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam

Production

An Arrival Pictures release of a Guide Co. Films presentation of a Keeper production. Produced by Kayvan Mashayekh, Sep Riahi, Belle Avery. Executive producers, Robert Guest, Ali Koc. Directed by Kayvan Mashayekh. Screenplay, Mashayekh, Belle Avery.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthew Cantrell, Dusan Joksimovic; editor, Duncan Burns; music, Elton Ahi; production designer, Michelle Milosh; art director, Giovanni Natalucci; set decorator, Lou A. Trabbie III; costume designer, Jane Robinson; sound (Dolby), Giles Khan; associate producer, Jason Tenenbown; assistant director, Luca Lachin; second unit director, Jason White; casting, Jeremy Zimmerman, Andrea Clark. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Jan. 10, 2006. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Adam Echahly, Bruno Lastra, Moritz Bleibtreu, Rade Sherbedgia, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Simpson, Marie Espinosa, Diane Baker, C. Thomas Howell. (English, Farsi dialogue)
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