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VENICE 2019 Competition

Olivier Assayas • Director of Wasp Network

“Every single day brought new problems”


- VENICE 2019: French director Olivier Assayas sat down to talk to Cineuropa about making Wasp Network, a film based on the Cuban Five, which played in competition

Olivier Assayas  • Director of Wasp Network
(© La Biennale di Venezia - foto ASAC)

Olivier Assayas is one of the top directors in France, the writer and director of some 20 features, since debuting with Disorder, which won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival back in 1986. His latest outing, Wasp Network [+see also:
film review
interview: Olivier Assayas
film profile
, screening in competition this year at Venice, is based on the true story of Cuban intelligence officers pretending to go into exile in an attempt to thwart terrorist attacks on Cuba.

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Cineuropa: Was it a challenge and a different experience making a spy movie in Cuba?
Olivier Assayas: I don't see it as a spy film; I see it as a historical film. It was more expensive than my previous movie, but still, we didn't have enough money to shoot the kind of film it is. We were stretching everything we had to the craziest extent. Every single day brought new problems, so it was very tough to make. It was tough physically, and it was tough logistically. It was extremely complicated to finance, but it was an exhilarating adventure because we shot a movie in Cuba, where this kind of picture has never really been made before. We mixed a Cuban crew with a handful of French heads of departments. We were dealing with modern history in Cuba, which is something that Cuban filmmakers never let any foreign filmmaker do, so the whole thing was an adventure. 

How did you come to hear about the WASP Network? Did you hear it as the story of one person, or did you hear about the Cuban Five spy ring in Florida?
It came to me through a Brazilian producer, Rodrigo Teixeira, who had been a publisher himself and had commissioned this book, Last Soldiers of the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five by Brazilian writer Fernando Morais. It's a book that doesn't have a narrative, exactly, but which is thoroughly researched. He interviewed a lot of the protagonists, and there's a lot of stuff that must have come from Cuban state security. There's a lot of very exciting, first-hand material. That was a solid starting point for me. I needed it because I was not familiar with Cuba, Central America or the Caribbean.

In your previous film Carlos [+see also:
film review
film profile
, there's a theme revolving around the terrorist as an icon. Here, Juan Pablo Roque [Wagner Moura] says, “I'm a movie star.” Is it a favourite theme of yours?
It's something I realised after the fact, meaning after I made the film. What is paradoxical is that the character of Carlos is like Roque, and he is the opposite of René González (Édgar Ramírez, who also played Carlos). I'm interested in the character of Roque, who is a family man, because he is the polar opposite of René. At the start of the film, we follow the parallel paths of two exiles. Roque is more relatable because he's more human and hardworking, and the other one, René, goes to Miami to enjoy the good life. All of these elements, even the craziest ones, are based on fact. 

Why did you decide to use an archive interview with Castro?
I used this interview because it was in the original screenplay, the first version of the script, but not in that form. When I actually got the archive material, this moment struck me because Castro is basically summing up what is going on in the film. I thought it was a powerful thing to have at that moment in the movie: the historical character who gives a sense of reality and truth to the story that we have been telling.

When did you decide to use the twist in the middle?
That was always part of the project. I'm not sure it was in Morais’ book, but maybe it was. I liked the fact that we are following the story of Cuban exiles in Miami, and then, suddenly, there is another side to the story, which is much more complex. All of a sudden, this everyday life we have been following is part of modern-day history, if you like. It's connected to the undercurrents of contemporary history.

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