Most Beautiful Island
Directed by Ana Asensio
Most Beautiful Island is a chilling portrait of an undocumented young woman's struggle for survival as she finds redemption from a tortured past in a dangerous game.
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★★★★ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
A short, stressful, and utterly spellbinding debut that transforms the immigrant experience into the stuff of an early Polanski psychodrama, Ana Asensio’s “Most Beautiful Island” is a worthy winner of the SXSW Grand Jury Prize for best narrative feature, and — more importantly — strong evidence of a cinematic juggernaut in the making.
Asensio, a thirtysomething Spanish actress whose work is virtually unseen on these shores, not only wrote, directed, and produced this fraught metropolitan thriller, she also appears in just about every frame. And while the film might begin by suggesting that its heroine was chosen at random (a mesmeric prologue follows seven different women as they weave through the sidewalks of Manhattan, the camera picking them out of a crowd as if to wordlessly reassert that most of the Naked City’s seven million stories remain untold), Asensio’s compulsively watchable lead performance splits the difference between the specific and the representational. She’s an undocumented women of a certain age, and also all of them; never just one or the other. But she’s about to have a night that will force her to forge a unique identity for herself or die trying.
★★★★½ review by Jacob on Letterboxd
"We make our own luck."
The less you know going into this movie, the better. Most Beautiful Island is one of the boldest debuts of the year, but it's so much more. First introduced by a brilliant visual prologue, the thematic weight is always on our shoulders -- Luciana is fighting to survive in a city of indifference. There are a few people who show her kindness, but at large, she's all alone. It takes quite a while before the genre elements really kick in, but in this first act, the groundwork for what follows is laid so elegantly. Luciana makes her own choices, but her agency is limited. She's at the end of her rope -- how can she say no to such a tempting offer?
My shoulders are still tight from how tense this was. We are simultaneously voyeurs, watching this wild night unfold, and in the mind of Luciana herself, doing the only thing she can to make it through. The complete subversion of expectations here is remarkable. Sophisticated writing, precise direction, and a sympathetic lead performance, all from Asa Asensio, work together to create a deeply unnerving experience. Check this one out if can get your hands on it.
★★★½ review by Lucy on Letterboxd
★★★★ review by bella on Letterboxd
following the total disbelief i felt after watching this, i rushed to find any interviews with ana asensio speaking about her influence. before i pressed play on one of two videos, i realized this film started with "this is based on true events."
watching asensio be so fearlessly candid and eloquent in explaining how her horrible experience translated to this film is nearly as heartstopping as the film itself. she talks about the girls she encountered, girls like her who were unlucky and struggling against all odds. she talks about how she could only imagine dramatizing it and turning it into something that people could watch and learn from.
my mind is totally blown. "most beautiful island" takes place within one day of an immigrant's life. though we don't know too much about her, by the end, when it seems like she's gotten herself into a huge mistake, we are rooting for her at all costs. asensio spoke about how she also wrote/directed/produced this to give herself, a struggling actor, a decent role. and she didn't disappoint. she has a transfixing, moving presence. her strength is absorbing and compassionate. this is truly one of the best performances i've seen from 2017.
that being said, this film is available on itunes and kanopystreaming (and probably tons of other sources!) i so urge you to dig into this thriller. asensio has a new fan in me.
★★★½ review by Tom Morton on Letterboxd
I had some concerns about Most Beautiful Island early on, as its Spanish heroine struggles to make ends meet in New York. She takes the subway out to a clinic where she tries to obtain some help from one of the doctors despite lacking the required insurance or money to qualify for assistance. While there's plenty of room for social commentary here and its immediately easy to relate to the protagonist, the doctor is THE worst actor I've seen in a long time and the whole situation comes across as clunky and artificial - not the best intro to a film that draws its horrors from otherwise very real situations.
It rallies quickly though, showing us the (fleeting) highs and (consistent, dangerous) lows of Luciana's troubled existence. She dresses as a chicken for work, her flat is full of notes asking for rent money, when she takes a bath, cockroaches flood out of a hole in the wall. All of this makes it easy to understand why she'd accept a somewhat questionable job offer from her Russian co-worker. Before long, she's stood in place in a stark basement with a group of identically dressed girls, waiting to be called through a mysterious door.
Most Beautiful Island feels a little stretched at feature length (it has that "expanded from a short film" vibe, although I don't think it actually was) and I have to admit, once the reality of what lurks behind that door is revealed, I did find it slightly laughable; however, it boasts such a compelling lead performance and (more than anything else I've seen this weekend, or recently) it is absolutely DRIPPING with tension - the kind of film where the credits roll to what feels like a room full of people slowly exhaling after holding their breath for much of the preceding 80 minutes. It's absolutely not perfect, but it's an extremely impressive debut from its Director-Writer-Actor that works wonders with a limited budget.
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