With the title Most Beautiful Island, actress-turned-director Ana Asensio alludes to Manhattan, New York. The film, an auspicious directorial debut inspired by true events, won the best narrative feature at SXSW Film Festival and has drawn positive reactions wherever it has been exhibited.
Besides directing, writing, and co-producing, Ms. Asensio also stars as Luciana, a struggling undocumented immigrant who lives in New York and gets intriguingly cornered after accepting a one-time job recommended by her Russian friend Olga (Natasha Romanova). Apparently, the latter is doing ok and shamelessly admits she uses men in order to make some extra money. By stating that everything is possible in New York, a city with so many opportunities, she attempts to cheer up Luciana, whose rent remains unpaid. What this ex-model finds super annoying is taking care of children, a sensitive matter for Luciana, who lost her little baby in an undisclosed accident while living in her country of origin. Embracing several day jobs, including babysitting two spoiled kids, Luciana lives in permanent financial affliction, a situation that becomes even harder to see when, penniless, she is forced to sneak into the doctor’s office to implore an examination.
“… an engrossing indie film that feels very New York.”
After hearing Luciana’s complains about money and the not-so-absurd possibility of becoming homeless, Olga decides to give her an address for a job she normally does but cannot take it this time. Apparently, the uncomplicated gig consists solely of attending a party in a black dress, a generously paid task taking into account the number of hours required. Following meticulous instructions that lead her to uncanny places filled with obnoxious characters, Luciana gets ultimately trapped in a dim-lit basement with a spine-chilling doorman (Larry Fessenden) blocking her way out. A weird, obscure meeting session begins, managed by an authoritative woman named Vanessa (Caprice Benedetti). A few other girls, equally dressed in black, wait to be called into a room after being introduced to a group of prosperous men and women. Luciana’s consternation escalates when she sees that Olga, unusually silent and avoiding eye contact, is among the girls.
Sex business immediately pops into our minds, but Asensio delivers a less obvious and far more surprising alternative to spellbind and stir tension. Slyly and motionless, this group embraces a totally different concept of pleasure, rejoicing as they play with the lives of others within a quirky, degenerate routine.
“…a struggling undocumented immigrant… gets intriguingly cornered after accepting a one-time job.”
Competently shot, sometimes bluntly edited, Most Beautiful Island is an engrossing indie film that feels very New York. Not stretched beyond the limits of necessary – its duration is one hour and twenty minutes – the film unveils hidden aspects of a city where, literally, anything can happen, and I mean for better and for worse.
The imperfections are counterbalanced with one of those experiences that will make ruminate about the obscene prepotency of wealthy people who exploit, in one way or another, the honest, the desperate, or the simply adventurous in order to satisfy their despicable whims and vice.
Most Beautiful Island (2017) Written and Directed by Ana Asensio. Starring: Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, Larry Fessenden, Caprice Benedetti.
7 out of 10