Published Jul 26, 2017Few topics are as timely or vital as immigration in Trump's America, which likely explains the hyperbolic 100% Rotten Tomatoes score that Most Beautiful Island currently boasts. Along with directing, Ana Asensio ambitiously wrote and stars in the film, which is purportedly based on true events about her immigration to America. But while the topic might be one on everyone's minds, the Most Beautiful Island doesn't quite live up to its hype or potential.
Opting to stay in the U.S. after her visa expires, Luciana (Asensio) is having trouble making ends meet. Flat broke, she struggles to scrounge pennies on a number of odd jobs like nannying and passing out flyers in a degrading chicken costume. Then, an acquaintance offers her a cash gig that sounds too good to be true — and well, it is.
Long story short, Asensio finds herself in a terrifying and isolated warehouse with a number of other women looking for under-the-table pay. It turns out they're being employed for the diabolical use of a secret group of high-society sociopaths. It's here that the film's thriller tendencies are put on full display.
The visual equivalent of vinyl's warm crackle, 16mm lends a mid-fi charm to the modern cityscape, and the year 2017 is apparently the one where everyone chose to shoot New York on film. Like Person to Person and Golden Exits before it, the Most Beautiful Island lives up to its name, with plenty of pleasing shots captured on mouth-watering analogue film.
Unfortunately, the other elements of the film aren't worthy of its cinematography. Asensio offers up a suitably muted performance as the lead, but as a director, she clearly didn't coax the best from her other performers. A scene in a doctor's office is particularly amateurish, with actors delivering lines like they're in The Room.
Plot-wise, the film does little to go beyond the "immigration is tough" theme that has proven to be catnip for cultural critics the world over. Despite a handful of pretentious indie movie tropes (at one point, Luciana writes "Most Beautiful Island" on a paper airplane and throws it out her apartment window), Asensio still manages to ramp up some tension, only to disappoint when the film's big reveal is mediocre and anticlimactic.
Most Beautiful Island shows plenty of potential for Asensio as a filmmaker, and comes frustratingly close to being a compelling thriller. Here's hoping she can iron out the kinks and make some truly great cinema in the years to come.