Most Beautiful Island
David Foster Wallace once said the purpose of good fiction is to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”. The final scene of Most Beautiful Island will disturb everyone. Spanish actor-turned-filmmaker Ana Asensio makes her directorial debut about a New York-based immigrant on an odyssey to find paid work, of any kind. But her desperation leads her to a dark and uncomfortable destination.
The movie starts off with a gritty social-realist tone, following the immigrant Luciana (beautifully played by Asensio herself) in rough super-16mm as she drifts from dressing as a sexy chicken to babysitting two unruly children. These struggles to find work are based on the filmmaker’s own experiences as an undocumented immigrant. But then the work shifts into darker, more surreal territory – as if Ken Loach was replaced with Lars von Trier. And this jarring change of scenery from bright, crowded exteriors to a dark, interior nightmare inserts a level of fear we might expect from David Lynch. More than Luciana’s efforts to find work, Asensio excels at making the viewer’s skin wriggle.
Although the first half is constructed from true experiences, it is weak compared to what comes after. Luciana is a strong and mysterious protagonist throughout, but the roles around her appear like badly drawn cartoons – made worse by dishwater dialogue and inadequate performances, proven by David Little’s robotic appearance as Dr Horowitz. The lines in the first part don’t often lend themselves to serious acting, often resulting in detestable clichés. The movie’s second half washes these bad-tasting faults away, and one almost forgets they existed, but they still block a good film from greatness.
Most Beautiful Island has grit and character, but not enough. Asensio delivers a tortured, sympathetic performance – astounding when one considers the brilliance of her direction. The picture’s dirty 16mm cinematography from Noah Greenberg mirrors the efforts of Sean Price Williams for the Safdie Brothers (Heaven Knows What, Good Time), who also specialise in New York-based realism. Unlike the Safdie brothers, Asensio doesn’t give the viewer enough to watch – in fact, were it cut down, Most Beautiful Island would be a five-star short film. But as a feature, there’s too little. However, leaving some of the dialogue aside, the scenes themselves are tense and eloquently constructed. An excellent effort from a first-time filmmaker.
Most Beautiful Island is released nationwide on 1st December 2017.
Watch the trailer for Most Beautiful Island here: