Olivier Assayas Will Re-Edit Venice and Toronto Spy Pic ‘Wasp Network’

EXCLUSIVE: Olivier Assayas will head back into the cutting room with his Venice and Toronto spy movie Wasp Network, the filmmaker has told us on the day of its North American premiere.

The intricate, multi-layered drama, starring Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Edgar Ramirez and Wagner Moura, explores the true story of the Cuban Five, who were sent to Florida in the 1990s to infiltrate local groups and carry out espionage. Assayas wants to show a tweaked version of the movie — which is adapted from Fernando Morais’s book, The Last Soldiers Of The Cold War — at the New York Film Festival in October.

“There are a few things that need clarification,” the Personal Shopper and Carlos director told me today. “There are a series of fixes I’ll make. I might shorten some parts and lengthen others. The running time won’t change considerably but it’s about gaining fluidity. I want the film to be understood by those who aren’t aware of the complexities of the local politics. The fixes will be done for the New York Film Festival [screening].”

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“The morning after I saw the film in Venice I sent a text message to Rodrigo [producer Rodrigo Teixeira] about changing elements of the film’s second half,” Assayas explained. “I sensed there were moments when the audience had doubts, that they might be uncomfortable with the politics, and I thought they would be easy fixes.”

The movie has been well-sold in Europe but has yet to strike a U.S. deal. There were some very positive reviews out of Venice, though others said they found the plot hard to follow.

The changes could see a little more of Penelope Cruz’s character in the film, the director said. “There will possibly be a little more Penelope Cruz because that’s the character we empathise with most.”

The director only finished shooting the movie on May 4th. “It has been a crazy schedule,” he noted. “To get the film ready for Venice was an intense process. It’s one of the most complex and ambitious films I’ve made.”

Some critics have suggested the film’s sprawling narrative might have also lent itself well to a multi-part movie — like the acclaimed Carlos — or to a mini-series. Assayas never felt that urge.

“The work of these guys could have felt quite repetitive [in a series or multi-part movie]. They weren’t James Bond. They were proletarian spies with tough lives. I wanted to have a different focus and approach.”

Wasp Network was among the first foreign films about Cuban-American politics to shoot in Cuba. Given that, there was a certain amount of surveillance of the production.

“When you shoot in Cuba, you know you’re going to watched”, the filmmaker said. “Initially it was a solid no from Cuba. This changed over time. They did ask us to change a scene in the script when one of the characters slaps his wife. So we did. By the time we finished shooting, the local politics had became more difficult so we were happy to leave and so were they. We got out by the skin of our teeth.”

While Assayas was pleased with the film’s reception on the Lido, the response from the Cuban authorities has been muted, he said.

“I thought the Cubans would be happy about the Venice premiere and would send the Cuban actors and producers to support the film. None of that happened. Only a couple of Cubans came. They were fine with the film but we’ll see what they’re real position is further down the line. At this point I don’t think we have their full support.”

The film will play later this month at the San Sebastian and Deauville film festivals before its New York berth.

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