Greek director Yannis Smaragdis has made only a handful of films throughout his career, from critically acclaimed films such as 1996's Kavafis and 2007's El Greco to lesser known and far less praised films. Unfortunately, God Loves Caviar is destined to be among his least praised films, the true story of a Greek pirate turned successful businessman turned man of tremendous national acclaim.
He surely deserves a better film.
Having premiered at TIFF, which should give hope to just about every indie filmmaker out there, God Loves Caviar was picked up by indie distributor Vision Films for a VOD, Blu-ray and DVD release.
While Smaragdis has always had a great degree of popularity in Europe, his films have seldom really caught on here in the U.S. I can't picture God Loves Caviar, released under the name The Pirate, changing that fact.
The film utilizes parallel flashbacks to tell the story of Ionnis Varvakis (Sebastian Koch), introduced to us as an elderly and feeble man being prepared for a sanatorium whose former slave turned servant (Evgeniy Stychkin) tells his story to a group of children gathered and clamoring for a view of the unfolding scene. Elsewhere, a Greek (Juan Diego Botto) shares the story of Varvakis to a British merchant (John Cleese). These two stories build up the bulk of what unfolds in God Loves Caviar, a largely bland and strangely emotionless production that squanders its fine cast with a story that doesn't inspire nearly as much as it should.
The story that unfolds is meant to inspire, of that I have no doubt. At a time when Greece has struggled, a film such as God Loves Caviar is an important one as it speaks to a national hero who persevered and succeeded. Saddled with insipid dialogue, the talented Sebastian Koch has very few places to go in a story that is lifeless and devoid of the energy and spark that it should possess. Catherine Deneuve, an incredibly gifted actress, is rendered almost pointless as Russian Empress Catherine II. Even John Cleese, who has barely ever made a film that didn't completely captivated me, can't seem to rise above material that is without direction and purpose.
In fact, one almost needs to question how anyone from TIFF actually screened the film and found it to be appropriate for the widely respected fest that is known for pushing many indie films to the awards season forefront. Did they suddenly start a B-movie section without telling anyone?
God Loves Caviar is the kind of film that would most assuredly win many Razzies if the Razzie Awards were actually about the worst films of the year. The film is so incredibly disappointing that it's almost a difficult task to write a review for it. I'm sitting here thinking to myself "Do I really have to give the film MORE of my time?"
Alas, I promised.
While God Loves Caviar may resonate with Greeks as a source of national pride, it's a dark spot on the cinematic resume of co-writer and director Yannis Smaragdis, a talented filmmaker who will most assuredly bounce back in the future unless he models his career after Rob Reiner. If so, I'm sure he can always fall back on a career as a pirate.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic