06/12/12GOD LOVES CAVIAR
Director: Iannis Smaragdis
stars: Sebastian Koch, Catherine Deneuve, John Cleese, Akis Sakellariou, Christopher Papakaliatis, Lakis Lazopoulos
Genre: Biography, Period, Drama, 2012
Duration: 101 min.
IOANNIS VARVAKIS begins his journey from the Greek island of Psara as a pirate, prior to the Greeks’ rise against the Turks. He reaches Russia and gains the favour of Catherine the Great, while simultaneously developing the caviar trade, only to return to Greece during the Revolution of 1821. It is his life’s story, based on true events, from pirate to wealthy businessman, eventually becoming a great benefactor in his own country.
Ioannis Varvakis was an important national benefactor, not widely known to the majority of the Greek public. Director Iannis Smaragdis has always been fascinated with the lives of important Greek figures that left their mark in history while their work still inspires to this day. In God Loves Caviar, released in movie theatres in Greece, anyone can enjoy this meeting between Iannis Smaragdis and Ioannis Varvakis. It is a creation of love that was completed with many struggles and financial difficulties. But as the saying goes, “all is well that ends well”, especially for the viewers that have a chance to journey from Psara to imperial Russia and back again, while at the same time familiarizing themselves with a man, a pirate, an uneducated Greek who was destined to greatness, fortune and indulgence, and yet his heart singled out three things: his country, the sea and caviar.
The film God Loves Caviar is one of those rare Greek masterpieces that aspire to become a major event in our country, while also venturing beyond the borders to take a bite out of the international film scene. The main language is English and the cast is composed of renowned foreign actors, which gives a helping hand to the film’s international career, having been very successful already at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2012. According to Greek standards, it is a very expensive production with many special effects that are not often seen in Greek films, with elaborate costumes and filming in Russia. Such ingredients are imperative for the narration of such a significant story; the cinema is a visual art and a picture is worth a thousand words; it is a small universe. The visualization of Varvakis’ adventurous story does require a production such as that of God Loves Caviar.
The film’s cinematography is outstanding, yet it is only a fraction of the whole. Another important factor is the script, upon which the recounting of the life of Ioannis Varvakis is based on, chronologically, through two parallel narrations by two people that witnessed the events of his life. Apart from being a very interesting narrative technique, they connect scenes and events, thus helping the storytelling along. The wonderful selection of exceptional actors in the starring and supporting roles is noteworthy with Sebastian Koch, Catherine Deneuve (she portrays Catherine the Great) and John Cleese (guest starring as the British commander in Zakynthos) stealing the show. Sebastian Koch’s interpretation of Varvakis is vividly portrayed through the artist’s dominant gaze and appearance, who even though being German, can easily persuade the viewers his is Greek. Alexandra Sakellaropoulou as Varvakis’ mother deserves a multitude of praise. She portrays the figure of the Greek mother to a T; she is parted with her son and stoically waits for his return, no matter how many years go by. An ethereal figure and a powerful performance that will not leave anyone unmoved.
Iannis Smaragdis’ direction follows the path of Ioannis Varvakis’ life grandiosely. Either in the impressive scene of the destruction of the Turkish fleet, or in simple and personal scenes such as Varvakis’ discussion with his mother by the seaside, the intention is to give life to the greatness of this Greek soul, who believed in freedom and defended his country, despite the unbearable cost to himself. The master Smaragdis conducts a cinematographical symphony that features the most important thing in a biography; a narrative ability that speaks to the viewer who in turn identifies with our hero Varvakis. The flow of the story never falters. At the end, the viewer can feel the emotions building up. Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that the original soundtrack by composer Minos Matsas can be considered the voice of Varvakis’ Greek soul throughout the movie, whose story takes place mostly outside of Greece.
To see or not to see?
The film God Loves Caviar can be considered as serious Greek filmmaking, which is something we don’t see very often. A Greek product with international qualities that proves our cinema is capable of going beyond the borders, and is not simply a feature version of a TV episodic. It is the cinema that grapples with moments of our Greek past for which we should feel proud, while it simultaneously works as an antidote to the harsh and pessimistic times we are going through. As the tagline of the film goes: “Everything is possible”; for Ioannis Varvakis, for Iannis Smaragdis, for the Greek film industry that can combine commercial success with quality. The film opens with Varvakis’ mother uttering “He has returned!”. What did return to us is the proud, capable moviemaking of one truly visionary creator, Iannis Smaragdis!
By Konstantinos Sotiropoulos