Wasp Network: spy network

Carlos Zilio, PRATO, 1971, industrial ink on porcelain, ø 24cm


Commentary on the film by Olivier Assayas based on the book by Fernando Moraes

The book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, released in 2011, was immediately catapulted to political bestseller status. Its author, Fernando Moraes, carried out a meticulous research, collecting dates, names, information about the state and people, on one of the lesser-known episodes in the long history of clashes between Cuba and the United States of America.

The account describes events that took place in the 1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, much of the resources that supported the Caribbean country dwindled. Cuban exiles concentrated in Miami, the vast majority aligned with the right, were euphoric. For them, the Castro regime would soon collapse. Paramilitary organizations began to invade Cuban airspace by dropping leaflets over Havana, and mercenaries landed on beaches to hide arms and ammunition, preparing the ground for a future coup.

For those who don't know, the distance between Florida and the Cuban capital is only 150 km. It's 40 minutes by boat, or a few hours on a good speedboat. By ferry, with the wind in favor, less than two days, as several Cuban refugees, known as balseros.

Faced with imminent danger, the Cuban government launched a counteroffensive. He selected some of his best personnel from the Army and Air Force and sent them to Miami to infiltrate terrorist organizations and collect information. The so-called Vespa Network discovered, among other things, that a large part of the funding for anti-Castro actions came from drug trafficking. One of the spies also became an informant for the CIA, denouncing operations involving the trafficking and agency of mercenaries in several Central American countries.

After many successful actions, which neutralized attacks and dismantled the schemes of the “contras”, the agents were discovered and arrested, tried and convicted by the American justice system. When Fernando Moraes finished his book, several were still serving time, which justified the title of the narrative.

All these ingredients suggested a beautiful film script. And that's what was done, in an international co-production directed by the Frenchman Olivier Assayas. Launched in 2019 at festivals, it now reaches the Brazilian public through Netflix, with the confusing name of Wasp Network: spy network. Certainly, for Cubans and Brazilians, the original name Rede Vespa would be more palatable.

Predictably, the film will provoke debate. Not only because of the political background, exposing the right-left confrontation, fueled by decades of anti-Cuba propaganda in the Tupiniquim region, but also because of the old question that haunts all adaptations of literature to cinema. Was it faithful? Cheated? Didn't match?

The cast is competent, and perhaps this is the only point of consensus. Edgar Ramírez, Penélope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas and the good team of supporting actors ensure a qualified presence on screen, even having to speak in Spanish, English and even Russian. The script, obviously, had to choose which path to choose among the enormous amount of information organized by Fernando Moraes in his book.

The fact that he chose a couple, the pilot René González (Ramírez) and his wife Flora (Cruz), as the supporting pillar of the plot is plausible. René refused to collaborate with the American government, and was the last one to be released, and Flora is a complex character, because in the beginning she thinks that her husband is a worm, a traitor to the fatherland. With a daughter to raise, she emigrates to the US and tries to reconnect with her husband.

Admirers of the book, one of Fernando Moraes' best, will complain about some omissions, a certain simplification, a lack of references. Critics of the film will say that it has too many characters, that the narrative is confusing. But, let's face it: summarizing a book of more than four hundred pages in 130 minutes always implies a choice, a reduction. In certain cases, this is compensated by an aesthetic, imagery, even poetic addition that can justify the experience.

At the end of the film, the focus on the González-Flora couple blurs the political context, and has been accused of looking like a soap opera ending. Yes, in terms. Cinema is a cultural industry, it requires emotion to reach a larger audience. The film is not a documentary, and it makes it clear from the start: “based on true events”. The dramaturgical option is not, and can never be, total submission to the facts. As long as it does not betray the original meaning of words and actions, it is a recreation with formal freedom. The inclusion of a speech by Fidel Castro himself in the film, for example, adds data that does not exist in the book. The portraits of real characters, in the final credits, free and back to Cuba, update the work of Fernando Moraes.

Assayas demonstrates, throughout his filmography, an interest focused on personal relationships, even when he dared to bring to the screen the biography of the famous terrorist Carlos, the Jackal (miniseries co-produced France/Germany), in 2010. Now he has chosen a great spy story , with the Cuba-USA polarization as a scenario, to highlight the individual dramas within it, without losing sight of the political dimension of its narrative. It even tries to be impartial, placing a documentary sequence of criticisms of the Cuban regime, in a somewhat clumsy way.

Far from having reached perfection, the French director reached a very involving result, which deserves attention. The better a book, the more difficult it is to adapt it for the cinema, as the founding masters of the seventh art said. And one of the cultural battles that crosses our time is the creation of national works (or multinationals, as the case may be) that oppose the North American cinematographic hegemony, of uncritical entertainment. On this front, Rede Vespa de Assayas comes to add, with merits.

*Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Wasp Network: spy network

France, Spain, Brazil, Belgium, 2019, 127 minutes

Directed by: Olivier Assayas.

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, Available García Bernal


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