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Wasp Network

Jun 24, 2020

Unwieldy docudrama about Cuban spies from the '90's, it is still fascinating and vivid as only good cinema can do.

Wasp Network

Grade: B

Director: Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper)

Screenplay: Assayas, Fernando Morais

Cast:  Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona)

Runtime: 2h 7m

By: John DeSando

Because much of my joy in reliving history is through cinema, I eagerly went to Netflix to experience writer/director Olivier Assayas’s Wasp Network (with writer Fernando Morais as well). Having never thought about the spies in the 90’s who infiltrated the anti-Castro movement in Florida, I now have a vivid picture of them and their heroic, self-sacrificing for communist Cuba.

This sometimes-incoherent docudrama (just too many spies dancing in the espionage world with nary a pause to figure if they’re working for the rebels, the Cuban government, or the FBI). Olga Salaneuva (Penelope Cruz), wife of ace pilot for the Cuban government, Rene Gonzalez (Edgar Ramirez), who secretly infiltrates the rebels without her knowing, provides a dramatic glue as she interacts also with other recruits for the government through her husband.

Gerardo Hernandez (Gael Garcia Bernal) is responsible for supervising the spies in Florida into the Wasp Network. Already you can see my challenge making coherent an unwieldy assembly of heroes and scalawags—I have yet to adequately assess the worth of the film.

I’m going to do that now while I have much else of the plot left undone: The excellent cast and the stellar DP’s (Yorick Le Saux and Denis Lenoir) have reminded us what a romantic and troubled island Cuba has been since Fidel Castro began his long rule. With cooperation from Cuba, the colorful decadence and charming decay of that festive nation are on display. Old American cars and shabby multicolored buildings create the perfect metaphor for the revolution with its romantic aspirations and real-time rationing of food and gas, enough to make emigration to the US a realistic goal.

Assayas has too much to cover, but what he does, when you factor out the excessive time given to domestic challenges and even a wedding, is fascinating to see how much these spies have given up for Cuba. The history is well known—The spies are caught and mostly turn on each other to accept the FBI’s plea deals.  

Communists still rule Cuba, and it suffers from the sanctions the Us has firmly held since Castro. In spite of that relatively poor profile, people are willing to sacrifice for Cuban ideals by joining the Wasp Network—and it stings. The movie, however, is historically and visually balm for the history-loving cinephile.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.co