Most Beautiful Island

 

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A street-level view of New York by an outsider with vision.

 
Most Beautiful Island

 

The title here is ironic as you would suppose given the film’s 18 certificate. The island to which it refers is Manhattan and what it offers to the film’s main character, an immigrant named Luciana, is anything but beautiful. New York may embrace the idea of big, big dreams but for Luciana, played by the film’s writer/director Ana Asensio, it proves to be a nightmare.

 

Asensio, who comes from Spain, was apparently drawing on her own experiences in creating this film. For much of its length, she gives us an outstanding portrait of a city as seen through the eyes of an undocumented immigrant who, having come to America because of its reputation as a land of possibilities, is now living hand to mouth taking on any odd job and sharing rooms on which rent is outstanding. Noah Greenberg’s photography, Francisco Bello’s editing and a soundtrack that seems alive with the sounds of the city combine to make this a vivid and compelling view of New York. For Asensio, already a well-established actress whose screen presence and acting capabilities are evident here, Most Beautiful Island is a triumphant feature debut as a director, one that shows uncommon talent and assurance in this new capacity.

 

For two thirds of the time, the film is content to portray Luciana’s unexceptional life backed up by a very simple storyline that builds throughout in that we can sense that it is leading to some unnerving drama. An acquaintance from Russia named Olga (Natasha Romanova), also present in New York as a needy immigrant, tells Luciana of how she has started to make big money by attending private parties. Then, claiming that on this occasion she has an alternative appointment, she suggests that Luciana should substitute for her (she reassures Luciana that nothing untoward is expected of the girls who attend). Thus there is a convincing context for Luciana to be lured into something which we are certain will be much less innocent than she believes (after all that 18 certificate has still to be accounted for).

 

The quality of both the filming and the acting are maintained, but the last quarter of this succinct piece (it comes in just short of 80 minutes) raises serious doubts. Save for saying that arachnophobes should stay well away, I will not reveal in any way what happens at the party. But I can say that it seems too outlandish to convince as a typical illustration of the perils faced by immigrants in New York and that reduces the value of the film as social comment. And, although it is not meant to be comfortable viewing, the sight of naked women being exploited humiliatingly is alarmingly close to films that are themselves exploitative even when, as in this case, the filmmaker is a woman. Add that the film’s somewhat open ending is not entirely persuasive and you will realise why my rating is not a high one. Even so, Most Beautiful Island introduces us to a filmmaker of exceptional abilities and is of very much more than average interest.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, David Little, Nicholas Tucci, Larry Fessenden, Caprice Benedetti, Anna Mytha, Ami Sheth, Miriam Hyman, Sara Visser, Natalia Zvereva, Jennifer Wolf, Fenella Chudoba.

 

Dir Ana Asensio, Pro Ana Asensio, Larry Fessenden,  Noah Greenberg,  Chadd Harbold and Jenn Wexler, Screenplay Ana Asesnio, Ph Noah Greenberg, Pro Des Almitra Corey, Ed Francisco Bello, Music Jeffery Alan Jones, Costumes Veronica Cárdenas and Geanme Marin.

 

Glass Eye Pix/Palomo Films-Bulldog Film Distribution.
79 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 1 December 2017. Cert. 18.