Greece without ABBA?! Noir without Cronenberg? At 78, he’s heading to Athens with a cast of stars to light up the darkness

Pass the tzatziki.

David Cronenberg is off to Greece.

And if there was any doubt at all that that patch of the Med is white hot in the celeb-sphere — as white hot as the bleach-washed buildings that are a truism of the place, playing off a steady whir of denim-blue sea — it was verified when the Canadian master announced recently that he is due there this summer with his latest. Official, from the wizard of creep and the virtuoso of the surreal (who has actually not made a movie since 2014): a movie called “Crimes of the Future,” starring Viggo Mortensen. And Kristen Stewart. Scott Speedman, Léa Seydoux and others.

And this being a Cronenbergian thing, it is all supposedly an aria of sorts about the survival of the species and organs and “trans-humanism” and a not-so-far-off future. Here, in the present, the talk ’round town is this: that the film is apparently shaping up to be his last hurrah. A career-capper.

“This is it,” someone in the know told me about the taut 78-year-old with a filmography that includes titles such as “Dead Ringers” and “Crash” and “Eastern Promises,” a lifetime that has already brought him a loot of honours, including both a Légion d’honneur (France’s highest distinction) and a Golden Lion from the Venice Film Fest, plus a body of work that’s had him bossing everyone from Jeremy Irons to Julianne Moore. A staunchly Canadian filmmaker, who has shot the bulk of his films near his lifelong home of Toronto (save for a few projects including “M. Butterfly,” shot in China, and “A Dangerous Method,” filmed in Austria), this is the first time he is going Greek.

David Cronenberg's bringing a touch of noir to sun-baked Athens as he films his final movie in the Greek capital this summer.

And why not? With a record 18 productions expected to be shot in that European country in 2021 (some still confidential), per its film industry — powered by a relatively pandemic-proof state of affairs there — expect more stars in Greece this summer than you might find at Chateau Marmont during your usual Oscar week. Besides Viggo and Kirsten, catch Daniel Craig and Kate Hudson, for instance, just two of the many, many names confirmed for the “Knives Out” sequel, which is Greece-bound, too, around the same time. With plot details under wraps, but a murder mystery anchored once again by an enigmatic detective played by Craig, that movie has a cast that includes — get this — Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn, Edward Norton and Janelle Monáe.

Lured by component crews, attractive tax rebates and a climate that boasts long daylight hours (ideal for shooting), Greece was already levelling up before the pandemic, but things picked up even more after its management of COVID-19. The sheer variety of its locations — world-renowned beaches, islands galore, plus architecture referencing the Venetians, the Ottomans and even the Byzantines — has also made it a magnet for projects such as the Apple TV series “Tehran.” The second season of that show (which I love) is shooting, with Athens once again subbing in for … well … Tehran!

Canadian impresario Robert Lantos, who is producing the Cronenberg film and who has filmed in Greece before, put it this way, when announcing his new project: “It has been 14 years since we shot ‘Fugitive Pieces’ in Athens, Hydra and Mitilini, an experience of which I have fond and positive souvenirs. Athens is the perfect setting for ‘Crimes of the Future,’ as it is bespoke tailoring for David Cronenberg’s unique vision of a future which intermingles with the past.”

This latest wave of productions shot in Greece follows a rich filmic history, of course. Sophia Loren was the stunner in the first ever Hollywood production shot there (1957’s “Boy on a Dolphin,” incidentally her first film in English, too) on the island of Hydra. One scene, in particular, showed her emerging from the sea in a wet dress — and set off a torrent of tourists clamouring to visit the same island the following summer.

Two years later, Elizabeth Taylor — at the height of her fame — put Greece on the map in her own way when she visited for purely personal reasons. Making the trip with her third husband, producer Mike Todd, the couple was pictured at the Acropolis and also partying with Athens high society at the Hotel Grande Bretagne. After Todd was killed in a plane crash, just weeks later, Taylor returned to Greece in the summer of 1960 with her fourth hubby, Eddie Fisher. Photos of them riding donkeys circled the world.

One guilty Greece pleasure, to be certain? That would be the shallow but gorgeous “Summer Lovers” from 1982, starring Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher. It is mostly remembered now for a famous threesome scene, but had some truly mind-blowing shots of Santorini. “Shirley Valentine” from 1989 is yet another one that fanned wanderlust. Focused on a bored Liverpudlian housewife, who runs away to Mykonos, it earned an Oscar nom for its star, Pauline Collins.

James Bond went to Greece in “For Your Eyes Only” and Jason Bourne did likewise in “The Bourne Identity.”

Of course, it is impossible to talk about Greece without mentioning “Mamma Mia!” The Meryl Streep-helmed jukebox musical — set against a backdrop of Skopelos, Skiathos and the Pelion coast — has single-handedly inspired more Hellenic trips than any other film.

Safe to say, we should not be expecting any ABBA tunes in the new Cronenberg flick. The one-time biology student at the University of Toronto is, we hear, sticking to what he knows best: the intersection of the human, the synthetic and the noir. “It’s something he wrote a long time ago and he never got it made,” his leading man Mortensen assured in an interview a few months ago. “Now he’s refined it … it’s disturbing and it’s good.”

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Having stayed busy doing the odd turn in front of the camera in more recent years — he recently acted in “Star Trek: Discovery” — and keeping a focus on other projects, such as the first novel he wrote a few years ago titled “Consumed,” this may just be Cronenberg’s final word.

Or is it?

David is, after all, a spring chicken compared to, say, Clint Eastwood. The latter, who is 90, has a movie he has directed coming out in the fall.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani

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