Olivier Assayas, Penélope Cruz, Édgar Ramírez, and producer Rodrigo Teixeira with Kent Jones at the New York Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Wasp Network, another highlight of this year's New York Film Festival, stars Penélope Cruz and Édgar Ramírez with Gael García Bernal, Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, and Leonardo Sbaraglia. Inspired by Fernando Morais’s book The Last Soldiers Of The Cold War, the director/screenwriter Olivier Assayas announced that the film shot by Yorick Le Saux (Non-Fiction, Personal Shopper, Clouds Of Sils Maria, and Greta Gerwig's Little Women) and Denis Lenoir (Mia Hansen-Løve's Bergman Island, Things To Come, Eden, and Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer's Still Alice), had been edited substantially since it was first shown at the Venice Film Festival on September 1. Assayas considered what we watched at the press screening on the afternoon of Friday, October 4 to be the film's new final cut world première.
Penélope Cruz: "I love babies. Once they get to the set they're mine!" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Wasp Network transports us into the realm of Cubans who defected to Miami in the Nineties. A secret network exists within the community of Anti-Castro organisations. Assayas, less interested in conventional spy lore, paints a supremely human portrait of the price there is to pay for political engagement such as this and the cost it holds in store for whole families. It is a complicated story that allows no easy judgements and Assayas - never someone who simplifies or makes a subject less intellectually intricate - dispatches a fascinating interplay of Castro combat airplanes, casualties, corruptions and convictions.
Penélope Cruz and Édgar Ramírez, playing husband and wife, with daughter Irma, being reunited after a long separation, have a scene-stealing baby named Ivett. At the press conference, I asked about the baby's exuberant acting skills.
Anne-Katrin Titze: You have some beautiful scenes with the baby. Was it difficult to get so many kisses?
Penélope Cruz: Something happened with that baby. Actually, we were lucky with all the kids in the movie. Right? We were really lucky.
Olivier Assayas on shooting the reverse shot of the scene with the baby not sleeping: "The whole process made me extremely scared, but we all loved the baby." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Olivier Assayas: Yes, but you've done pretty well. You're pretty good with babies.
PC: I love babies. Once they get to the set they're mine! "I'm going to be your Mommy for a while!" In the beginning, they're "Hey, you're just doing that." But then we get very friendly. And with that baby that was so young. It was like a little over a year.
And something magical happened with her. Because from the first day - the day that I shot the end of the movie, the scene when she's "Mama, Mama", kissing me - is the day I met her. So in the morning I was lucky that I had a couple of hours before we did our stuff together.
PC: And I was just playing with her. And something happened with that baby. It's like she knew. She didn't speak, she didn't understand like every word, but she understood the game. And she knew that the game was: You're playing my mom. You're leaving. When you leave I'll get sad.
And in every take when I was leaving, she was like "Mama, Mama!" Best actress in the world. And also with Édgar. It was also the first time she saw you and she was beaming.
Édgar Ramírez on baby Ivett: "She saw me through the window and through the glass. And we were all very moved and very impressed with that." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Édgar Ramírez: She saw me through the window and through the glass. And we were all very moved and very impressed with that. And of course, that held the whole thing, you can imagine. The real father was crying, because he was there.
ÉR: It was kind of the end of the movie and we were in a real jail.
OA: Yes, because we shot the last scene first. We shot it not in Miami but in Cuba. And the baby was so extraordinary that we decided that we needed her for the scenes we shot there. Because the jail scenes we shot in Gran Canaria.
So it was a big decision to bring that baby and add her to the scene. But I just thought there was something so amazing happening between the baby and Penélope. I thought that was really worth the trouble, and believe me, it was trouble. To bring the baby to Gran Canaria. And also the other part of the story is, you know, so we were shooting in a real jail, right? So you only have two angles. You have one angle facing Penélope and one angle facing Édgar.
Olivier Assayas and Édgar Ramírez with Penélope Cruz: "Kisses, kisses, kisses, kisses. And suddenly she fell asleep. And it was finished." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
And the problem is that between the two takes, the baby fell asleep. So all of a sudden, we could not match the shots. So we had to have guys from our set department build a set similar to that of the father in the jail in some other location so that we could shoot the reverse shot of that scene with the baby not sleeping. I mean, it made me very scared. The whole process made me extremely scared, but we all loved the baby.
ÉR: Kisses, kisses, kisses, kisses. And suddenly she fell asleep.
OA: And it was finished.
Kent Jones: It's too bad we don't have her for the press conference.
Wasp Network - Tuesday, October 8 at 9:00pm - Alice Tully Hall
Wasp Network screening at the London Film Festival on October 12.
The 2019 New York Film Festival runs through October 13.