Depardieu's Stalin film begins shooting in Portugal

Gerard Depardieu is surrounded by journalists after a screening of "Welcome to New York" directed at the 67th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 17, 2014. Depardieu plays Josef Stalin in a new film. Eric Gaillard/Reuters

The film starring controversial French-born actor Gérard Depardieu as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin has begun shooting in Portugal, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reports.

Stalin's Couch, based on the 2013 novel of the same name ( Le Divan de Staline ) by French author Jean Daniel-Baltassat, is set during the 1950s. Directed by French actress and filmmaker Fanny Ardant, the film tells the story of a young artist and the difficulties he faces when commissioned to design a monument to the Soviet leader.

Russian state studio Mosfilm has partnered with the filmmakers and is providing costumes and set pieces for the shoot. According to Sergey Simagin, Mosfilm's chief of international relations, the production has started filming. "We sent some costumes to Fanny Ardant's crew - military costumes and pieces of set design from the period. We were told it's all been received and filming has already started in Portugal at the start of January."

Simagin added that Depardieu's Stalin costume was not part of those sent as Mosfilm will not be providing it, but rather it will be designed in France due to his "irregular measurements".

Depardieu's role in the film as the USSR's infamous dictator has attracted interest due to his growing closeness to the Kremlin in real life. The actor has been strongly critical of the French government's increased tax rate, moving to Belgium in 2012 and then controversially adopting Russia as his new homeland in 2013.

He has since made controversial statements, such as his declaration that he is prepared to "die for Russia", while he has also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian ally Alexander Lukashenko, whom Depardieu recently called a "nice guy" after going out scything with him.

He has been blacklisted by Ukraine alongside other entertainers who have been perceived as growing closer to Putin, such as rap rock group Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst and U.S.-born boxer Roy Jones.