Starring Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael Garcia Bernal and Wagner Moura, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday (September 1), where it is competing with 20 others for the top Golden Lion prize.
The action begins in Havana with Cuban pilot Rene Gonzalez, played by Ramirez, flying off to the United States to defect, leaving his wife, Cruz’ Olga, and their daughter behind in the Communist state led by Fidel Castro.
While it appears at first that he wants to start a new life in Florida, he joins other exiled Cubans there as part of a ring known as the Wasp Network, a pro-Castro group.
Led by Garcia Bernal’s undercover operative Manuel Viramontez, they infiltrate Cuban-American groups that want to topple the Castro regime.
Assayas said he liked the idea of leading the audience in one direction and then “twisting” it.
The film is based on the true story of The Cuban Five intelligence officers who were arrested in Florida in 1998, convicted of espionage and other activities and jailed, before eventually being released after lengthy jail terms as part of a prisoner swap between the two countries.
Assayas, known for “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper”, said shooting in Cuba was “what allowed this film to happen.”
“I thought there would be conditions, strings attached, but the reality is that there was not. We were completely free to make the film exactly as we wanted. We had, I won’t say that we had no control or no…I won’t neither say that we were not spied on. We were monitored to put it mildly, but there were no consequences on the film,” he said.
He said the film was made during “a period of tension between Cuba and the U.S.” and that the situation was “evolving fast”.
“We thought we were lucky we had made this film before because I don’t think it would have been possible to be made today,” he said.
At the film’s Venice news conference Cruz, who described the story as “a very interesting subject to explore”, was asked about her biggest fears.
“The world seems more and more divided every day,” she said, also citing the impact of fast-changing modern technology on children and teenagers.
“I feel it is creating a lot of general anxiety. I worry,” she said.
(Production: Cristiano Corvino, Sarah Mills, Hanna Rantala)