centuries, Greeks have maintained a commanding share of the global shipping
business. Arguably, Ioannis Varvakis was part of that tradition. He specialized
in re-routing Ottoman shipments. He was a proud pirate, but he became a Russian
officer and nobleman, while never relinquishing his Greek identity. Yannis
Smaragdis, Greek cinema’s prestigious bio-pic specialist turns his attention to
the swashbuckler in his English language production, The Pirate (a.k.a. God Loves Caviar), which releases today on DVD and is available on multiple VOD
platforms from Vision Films (trailer here).
dreaded pirate Varvakis will end up old and infirm, living as a secret captive
in a remote British “clinic” for infectious diseases. We know this because the
film starts at this cheery point, telling his story in competing flashbacks.
Lefentarios a dodgy veteran of the Greek resistance will explain to the British
superintendent how he goaded the buccaneer into more direct action, while
Varvakis’s former servant will explain to a group of street urchin’s how great
his former master truly was.
had always fought the Turks ship to ship, claiming the spoils for his efforts.
However, at Lefentarios’s urging, Varvakis hatches an unlikely plan to wipe out
the entire Ottoman fleet (apparently by setting his ship on fire and pointing
towards several hundred Ottoman vessels). Needing safe haven, Varvakis offers
his services to Catherine the Great, who appoints Varvakis her personal agent
for the Caspian.
mostly reformed rogue makes decent coin tending to her interests, but he
becomes vastly wealthy when he develops methods to ship caviar without
spoilage. Russians love caviar. So do the Persians, which lends his operations
additional strategic significance. Catherine is well satisfied with Varvakis,
bestowing rank and title upon him. Unfortunately, his personal life is a mess.
the Greek resistance to the Ottoman occupation is not exactly over exposed in
Western media. The Pirate’s home
viewing release comes at an opportune time, countering Russell Crowe’s ripping
well-made Water Diviner, which views
Greco-Turkish conflicts through the lens of Smyrna. However, Smaragdis devotes
an awful lot of time to Varvakis’s loveless marriage to the unfaithful Helena,
his strained relationship with a grown daughter from a previous union, and the
whiny son who can never live up to his father’s expectations.
though it is a minor role, John Cleese not surprisingly delivers all the best
lines as McCormick, the British administrator. Sebastian Koch (still best known
in America for The Lives of Others)
has the appropriate presence for a figure of Varvakis’s stature, but despite no
shortage of makeup, he never looks like he is the right age for the character’s
successive stations in life. In contrast, Evgeniy Stychkin never ages a day as
Ivan, the loyal servant who manages to make his way to Varvakis’s double-secret
island prison without arousing any suspicion. Of course, Catherine Deneuve does
her stateliest as Catherine II, but her screen time is limited.
Pirate was a big hit domestically,
arriving to bolster national spirits in a time of austerity. Tellingly, the
Greeks would look to a pirate, who lives off contraband appropriated from
others, as a source of inspiration. Still, there is something appealingly old school
about its earnest approach to historical drama. You can practically hear the
voiceovers announcing “special guest stars” Cleese and Deneuve. Recommended for
those looking for some unselfconscious, slightly creaky, throwback
entertainment, The Pirate (a.k.a. God
Loves Caviar) is now available on DVD, as well as on VOD services like iTunes,
DirecTV, and Vudu.
Labels: Catherine Deneuve, DVD, Greek Cinema, John Cleese, Sebastian Koch