Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network has been generating strong word of mouth here at the Venice Film Festival where it premieres in competition tonight. The spy drama, based on Fernando Morais’ book The Last Soldiers Of The Cold War, stars Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, Ana de Armas and Gael Garcia Bernal.
It tells the true story of a group of Cuban spies sent to Florida in the 1990s by then-president Fidel Castro, revealing the tentacles of a terrorist network with ramifications in Central America and with the consent of the U.S. government. The men were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges that included conspiracy. They are known as the Cuban Five in America, and go by Cuban Heroes at home.
Of the politics involved, Assayas noted the position of the U.S. “is extremely ambivalent and ambiguous. The FBI ends up monitoring the most dangerous terrorist groups and are somehow very lenient with them. You have a group of Cuban spies (in Wasp Network) who try to stop the activity of terror groups and instead of arresting the terror groups, they arrest the guys who are trying to stop them.”
Actually shooting in Cuba was “a complex process,” Assayas told a press conference today. Initially, “the answer was no, they did not want us to make this film. They were a bit suspicious of a Frenchman dealing with their modern history.” Although they were “ultimately completely free” to make the film as they wanted, Assayas allowed, “I won’t say we were not spied on, we were monitored to put it mildly. But there were no consequences on the film.”
For Cruz, Cuba is “a place that you fall in love with.” But she found it was “difficult” for the people they came in contact with “to really share their feelings… Talking about the last decades is quite complex because it comes from everything that happened before that, so I didn’t feel a great freedom when they had to share their real feelings and that is something that worries me. In 2019, people in all countries should be able to share how they feel.
Ramirez and Bernal play two of the Cuban Five, and the former waxed on the characters’ patriotic motivations. “Was it worth it to leave your family behind, to crush their heart and have everyone in your life think you’re a traitor? I don’t know if it’s worth it. That’s why the movie is so interesting. To be a spy is to be splitting your personality constantly. I think it has little to do with loyalties or ideologies — patriotism could be the trigger, but you’re forced to be someone else.” He noted that actors are also paid to be someone else, but with spies, “If something goes wrong, they pay with their lives.”
Bernal added he sees the Cuban Five as a different breed. “In what they are doing, they are not spies that are going somewhere else to kill someone, to establish something with violent efforts. They are spies that are trying to stop violence. It’s a very different thing than just saying, ‘It is out of patriotism.’ There is something very unique about the real story that highlights the act of love that made them do this. Love was only reason they didn’t go crazy.”
Talking of going crazy, Cruz responded to a question about celebrity and social media. She said, “Things are going at a speed we aren’t prepared for. It may sound like an exaggeration, but we were raised with a very different relationship with technology and now children and teenagers are so much in contact with electronics. It takes away from them learning how to interact, or how to be bored which is important to learn. It’s affecting all of us, creating general anxiety. If this continues, I feel like all of our brains are just going to explode.”