Olivier Assayas’s lively, realistically structured, tragicomic Wasp Network joins an elite list of crucial films about international espionage, mainly because it refuses to behave as such films usually do.
Improvised from Fernando Morais’s book, The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, it is a gripping narrative based on a true story set at a time when the Berlin Wall had fallen and many thought that Fidel Castro’s Communist regime in Cuba would fall within no time. With the majority of it being shot on location in the bustling, crumbling Havana is just one reason why it all seems so realistic.
With an ensemble cast of Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Wagner Moura, the film had a premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday, where it is challenging with 20 others for the top Golden Lion prize.
It begins in 1990, with a burly pilot, René González (Edgar Ramirez), kissing his faithful wife Olga (Penélope Cruz) and daughter goodbye one morning in their Havana flat.
He’s tasked to take a couple of parachutists up for a skydive, but he is expected to be home in time for dinner, at least convinces them so. In fact, in the first of the film’s numerous twists, he nips into the control tower, turns off the radios, and flies his small plane over the ocean to Miami.
Leaving his family behind was an unbearably painful experience, he tells the US press, but he couldn’t bear the privation in Cuba any longer. Indeed, he soon hooks up with an anti-Castro organization aimed at helping fellow defectors and uses his piloting skills to rescue refugees who are in a struggle to get through the waves on rafts. The story picks on from there.
“I liked the idea of leading the audience in one direction and then twist it and then we see the other side of the game,” Assayas was quoted as saying in a news conference.
Garcia Bernal likened the key characters to “spies that are trying to stop the violence”.