Most Beautiful Island (4 stars)

Most Beautiful Island

Ana Asensio beguiles at the centre of a self-made drama focusing on the immigrant experience

Shot by hand on Super 16 and with ambition that defies its scale, Most Beautiful Island is a bold and startling debut from Madrid-born actress-turned-writer-director Ana Asensio. In a film based on her own experiences that won the 2017 SXSW Grand Jury Award, Asensio takes the lead role of Luciana, a Spanish immigrant who has moved to New York to escape tragedy back home. Working a series of menial jobs for never enough money, her decision to work as a hostess at a secret underground party results in a truly disturbing, yet surprisingly empowering experience.

From cinematographer Noah Greenberg's shaky opening shots, which turn a stalker-esque gaze on various young women as they walk the city streets, the film's gritty aesthetic complements its urban survival narrative. Even in a place as busy as New York, immigrants like Luciana lead anonymous lives; largely unseen by those around them, they eke out an existence and are preyed on by those more fortunate. No-one is immune; the driver of the cab Luciana takes across town is also a victim of circumstance – both his own, and his passenger's.

As Luciana, however, Asensio is so much more than a mere pawn in her own life. While she may spend the majority of the film buffeted by the currents of both past memories and her relentlessly bleak present, she remains proud and determined to keep moving forward. The film's title comes from a message she scrawls on a paper plane thrown out of the window of her tiny apartment in an act of defiance and hope.

Indeed, Asensio's beguiling performance keeps the film on track as it builds to an audacious denouement that comes out of the leftfield. And when Luciana finally has the chance to showcase her strength of character in the strangest of circumstances, she is breathtaking to behold.

Limited release from Fri 1 Dec.

Most Beautiful Island

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 17min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Ana Asensio
  • Cast: Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, Larry Fessenden
  • UK release: 1 December 2017

Luciana (Asensio) is an undocumented Spanish immigrant in New York City, working menial jobs for not enough money, until she gets an offer of work as a hostess at a secret underground party. Asensio’s directorial debut is bold, startling and sometimes disturbing, and she gives a beguiling performance.