Monday, October 7, 2019
Nate Hood's 400 Words on THE WASP NETWORK (2019) NYFF 2019
One can’t help but feel similarly frustrated with the frequently decentralized storytelling in Olivier Assayas’ Wasp Network, a film where it feels like not just the reels, but individual scenes were assembled out of order. An ambitious exploration of a real life Cuban intelligence ring that infiltrated the Cuban exile community in south Florida in the late nineties, the film seeks the same sprawling breadth of his 2010 miniseries Carlos about Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal. But what Assayas did with that film in five and half hours he attempts here in Wasp Network in only two, resulting in an alternatively languid and rushed mess.
Though Assayas is frequently at his best when he limits his perspective to a single character wandering through a strange environment—Maggie Cheung or Kristen Stewart navigating the bizarre worlds of Parisian cinema and high fashion—he’s admirably managed ensemble cast films before. But here he collapses under the strain. Consider the first half of the film where each reel is devoted to an individual agent fleeing Cuba for the states, their stories all feeling like unrelated short films. We don’t even know they’re double agents until a jarring montage in the middle of the film where Assayas bucks his measured storytelling for a getting-the-crew-together montage set to a pop song that feels like a drive-by Scorsese-ing. Even after this Assayas refuses to explore the interiors of his characters: why are they spies?; why do they abandon their families? The film only works when it focuses on the people trapped in the middle of the Cuba/US espionage battle, mainly Penélope Cruz as the wife of one of the operatives. It seems Assayas chose the wrong ensemble to focus on.