Political Film Society - Newsletter #228 - June 15, 20055

June 15, 2005


The KeeperThe Keeper: The Legend of Omar Khayyam (directed by Kayvan Mashayekh) is a fascinating biopic of Omar Khayyam (1048-1122), famous Persian astronomer, mathematician, poet, and author of The Rubaiyat. The biography is recounted in the method of oral storytelling, reminiscent of the television film Arabian Nights (2000), which was based on the tenth century classic, The Book of the Thousand and One Nights. Titles at the beginning of the film indicate that each family in Persia traditionally appoints one person to be the keeper of the storytelling legends. In a certain Iranian family in Houston, the keeper is Nader (played by Puya Behinaein), but he is dying of leukemia. On his deathbed, he begins to tell his younger brother, twelve-year-old Kamran (played by Adam Echahly), the oral history of Omar Khayyam's life; in advance of his imminent death, Kamran is appointed the family's new keeper. However, Nader dies before finishing the story. From his schoolteacher, Miss Taylor (played by Diane Baker), Kamran discovers that Omar Khayyam's poetry has been published in a book; and he also learns that his grandfather (played by Darius Iranneajot) in Iran knows the full story. Accordingly, Kamran boldly flies to London to meet the publisher's widow (played by Vanessa Redgrave) and later flies to Iran to hear the rest of the story on his grandfather's deathbed. The story itself tells how Imam Muaffak (played by Rade Serbedzija) took Omar (played by Daniel Black) under his wing at an early age, taught him to the point that Omar (played as an adult by Bruno Lastra) became a teacher and inventor. When the Seljuk Turks conquer Persia, the new Sultan, Malik Shah (played by Moritz Bliebtreu), appoints the Imam as Grand Vizier, who in turn brings Omar into his court as a trusted adviser. However, Omar's classmate, Hassan Sabbeh (played as an adult by Christopher Simpson), does not accept the authority of the Sultan (who ruled from 1072-1092), organizes the Assassins Sect, and the two fall out over Hassan's fiendish proposal for Omar to assassinate the Sultan in order to gain the hand of a boyhood girlfriend Darya (play as a child by Yasmin Paige, as an adult by Marie Espinosa), whom Hassan has captured as bait for his scheme.


Throughout the story, which continues beyond Hassan's wicked plotting to the Christian conquest of Turkey and Palestine, the political subtexts are clear. The movie, with breathtaking cinematography of magnificent Islamic architecture (in Uzbekistan, the homeland of the Seljuk Turks), warns expatriate Iranians not to forget their culture. Christianity, in the form of the Byzantine advance and the First Crusade, is accused of inventing the concept of warfare on behalf of religious faith, and the successful crusaders are charged with massacre of Jews and Moslems who formerly lived in peace together in the Holy Land. (The Byzantine conquerors were at first held back by the Seljuk Turks under Malik Shah, whereupon the Byzantines asked Pope Urban II for assistance; the result was the First Crusade of 1096-1099, which was successful when the Seljuk empire's power dwindled because rival claimants fought for supremacy after Malik Shah's death.) Yet another point is that Omar Khayyam was an Islamic deist, believing that science explains events instead of the hypothesis of divine intervention; although his Islamic faith is not questioned in the film, he was in fact challenged at the time by religious leaders. The maxim that leaders who lie will lose their power might perhaps be seen as a contemporary political indictment, but the movie prefers to allow filmviewers to decide to which leaders the judgment might apply.  MH

Amazon.com Music

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Omar Khayyam

With their concern for the here and now, as opposed to the hereafter, Omar Khayyam's quatrains are as romantic today as they were hundreds of years ago.

Amazon.com Music

The Book of the Thousand and One Nights

Translation of the wonderful and enchanting tales of the Arabian nights.