“God Loves Caviar” by Iannis Smaragdis / Toronto 2012 review

The tempestuous life of Ioannis Varvakis hits the big screen in a film whose most remarkable trait is its sheer force of ambition.

Before Ioannis Varvakis was transformed into a national benefactor, he seems to have lived an endless array of lives as pirate in the Aegean, confidant of Catherine the Great and rich caviar merchant in Russia. A wanderer, a dreamer, a citizen of the world, a man who eventually returned to Greece in order to support the revolution against the Ottoman Empire, only to meet a fate much different to what he had expected.

His life story is a masterclass in high adventure and would have clearly made a fascinating movie full of plot twists and emotional turbulence, which you’d like to believe you’re feeling, but for the most part are completely absent.

The script follows Varvakis’ life as told by his former footman Ivan to a group of children on a sandy beach, a hair’s breadth away from the Zante sanatorium the aged Varvakis is now committed to, supposedly suffering from a highly contagious disease.
His life unfolds like a fairy tale trickling down Evgeniy Stychkin’s lips, who delivers a lively and rather convincing performance as his faithful servant. But when the film turns its focus on Varvakis, the sparks fade in favor of an overly conservative narrative approach, in a misguided attempt to respect the character’s mythology.

deneuve

Although “God Loves Caviar” is supposed to be about a man who “dared to dream”, it consistently fails to flesh out his vision. It simply lacks the drive, making everything look artificial, same way the clothes hang limb and lifeless from the actors’ bodies, like they’re wearing them for the very first time. Their houses and mansions feel equally uninhabited – even the British flag on a seafaring vessel looks surprisingly starched and clean, instead of weather-beaten and dirty.

Casting Sebastian Koch in the lead however is a fine piece of casting, as the German actor has charm and stature to spare, and he even manages to add depth to a character that’s surrounded by non-entities, unable to leave their mark on the film.
“God Loves Caviar” is an ambitious attempt at monumental filmmaking that, despite best intentions, doesn’t quite live up to the expectations, largely created by the sheer magnitude of the production, which is above and beyond Greek credit crunch standards in this day and age.

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Read all our Toronto 2012 reviews here.