Catherine Deneuve, Sebastian Koch and John Cleese are among the international cast of Yiannis Smaragdis’ God Loves Caviar, shooting in Greece.

The film, titled in Greek O theos agapaei to haviari, starts shooting today in southern Greece.

The $8m Greek-Russian co-production, which Sony acquired earlier this year for worldwide distribution, is produced by Smaragdis’ Athens-based Alexandros Film and Fedor Popov’s Stella Studio.

It is backed by, among others, Feelgood Entertainment headed by Irene Souganidou. This fast expanding company, representing among others Disney and Sony Pictures for theatrical distribution, will handle the film for Greece and Cyprus together with the local branch of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Feelgood, which brokered the March deal with Sony, has also worked with George Lanthimos’ Oscar-nominated Dogtooth and Venice award-winner Alps, as well as Athina Rachel Tsangaris’ Attenberg.

God Loves Caviar tells the real life story of the 19th-century Greek pirate Ioannis Varvakis, who became a wealthy businessman by introducing and selling caviar to the court of Catherine the Great of Russia. He donated his immense fortune to the new Greek nation, emerging from its 1821 revolution against the Ottoman rule.

He died poor and abandoned as a result of the Russian-English opposition for influence over the young Greek nation.

The subject and the film itself are quite topical at the very moment that Greece is subject to the European Union and the  International Monetary Fund rule and dictate resulting from the country’s devastated economy.

Smaragdis said, “The film intends to help the Greek people and their souls to find solace and face the critical situation the country is undergoing.”

German star Sebastian Koch (The Life of Others) says he accepted the part of Varvakis because he was “attracted by Varvakis’ quest for truth and dedication to a cause which brought him to support the Greek revolution. [He is] a romantic character in fact who fits my belief in big ideas, understanding and coexistence”.

Deneuve plays the part of Catherine the Great of Russia, who sheltered Varvakis in her court and played a pivotal role in his becoming immensely rich.

Cleese plays the English administrator of the asylum in the Ionian island of Zante, where Varvakis lived virtually imprisoned during the last part of his life.

An impressive set of the asylum has been reconstructed in the port of Pylos, southern Peloponisos, by the award winning production designer Nikos Petropoulos.

The multinational cast and crew includes among others such actors as Spain’s Juan Diego Botto (who stared in Smaragdis’ El Greco), Evgeny Stychkin and Olga Sutulova from Russia, and from Greece: Lakis Lazopoulos, Akis Sakellariou, Alexandra Sakellaropoulou, Giannis Vouros, Alexandros Mylonas and Marissa Triantafylidou.

Smaradis reteams with his usual collaborators including Greek DOP Aris Stavrou, and award winning Spanish costume designer Lala Huete, both of who worked on the hit El Greco.

Music is by Minos Matsas and editing by Giorgos Didimiotis.

After two weeks in Pylos, the shooting will continue in other Greek locations such as the islands of Creta, Aegina, Psarra (where Varvakks was born), before wrapping in St Petersburg and Astrakhan after a nine-week shoot.

The English-language film is the third Smaragdis outing dealing with past prominent Greek figures. Kavafy (1996) on the famous poet and El Greco (2007) propelled Smaragdis to the world attention.

God Loves Caviar is set for release in October 2012.