Toronto gets a taste of Caviar
by Boyd van Hoeij
19/09/2012 - On the heels of the enormous domestic success of his previous biographical film, El Greco, Greek director Yannis Smaragdis turned his well-trained eye to another Hellenic period hero: Ioannis Varvakis.
His latest film, God loves caviar, traces the adventures of Varvakis, who was started life as a pirate in the late 18th century and who, after escaping from an Istanbul prison, managed to become a trader in Russia who earned the trust of Catherine the Great. He would later become instrumental in the Greek Revolution in the 1820s, using his wealth and influence to try and aid the nationalist cause.
Such a colourful life is inherently a cinematic subject and Smaragdis goes all out with an impressive cast, which includes not only German star Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others [trailer, film focus]) in the title role but also name actors in smaller roles, including Catherine Deneuve as the imperious Czarina of Russia and John Cleese as a British navy official who controls the tiny island where Varvakis is exiled to at the start of the film.
The film's title refers to the fact that, after having been granted unlimited fishing rights in the Caspian Sea by Catherine the Great, Varvakis settled in Astrakan, where he invented a way to keep caviar fresh for longer periods, thus making export a possibility and making Varvakis himself a millionaire in the process.
The film itself addresses both the delicacy (though not exactly the method used to preserve it) and also the titular deity, whose wise words of advice come via an bearded fisherman, in one of the film's somewhat awkwardly symbolic scenes.
The intricate story, which goes back and forth between the exiled Varvakis, a narrator who recounts the story to a group of children on a beach and flashbacks to the trader's younger years, was written by the director, with the help of his El Greco writers Panayotis Pashidis and Jackie Pavlenko and Russian screenwriter Vladimir Valutskiy.