Spanish actress Ana Asensio makes her feature directorial debut with this compelling – if not entirely fulfilling – look at a day in the life of an immigrant worker in the Big Apple. Most Beautiful Island’s unlikely to win anybody’s Film of the Year trophy a month from now, but, say what you will about it, it’s destined to become one of those films you hear described at cocktail parties before a choral recital of “oh that one!”.
Asensio – as well as directing, writing and producing – plays Luciana, a young woman making ends meet in the city by taking off-the-books cash-in-hand work through Craig’s List, but still struggling to pay her way day-to-day. When her friend Olga asks her to fill in at a job that evening entertaining guests at a party, Luciana finds herself too desperate to keep the wolves from her door to question the opportunity too much, leading her onto a slippery slope of a day that will take her to places she never could have expected.
Through and through, Most Beautiful Island is absolutely Asensio’s baby, and it’s to her utmost credit that she proves herself as unflinching behind that camera as she does before it. Offering what amounts to a more demure feminine answer to the recent (though more impressive) Good Time, Asensio stealthily draws you into a story that feels at times like the subplot of a late nineties urban thriller given more than a healthy dose of nondescript Euro sheen.
Alas, Most Beautiful Island drops the ball perhaps more heavily on the page than it can really afford to, by forgoing a real narrative or thematic arc, and ultimately emerging a somewhat listless exercise beyond standard in-the-moment intrigue. Not helping matters is Luciana’s being something of a blank slate from end-to-end, meaning that – while Asensio delivers a stirring turn – it’s a turn restrained within the confines of a character lacking anything beyond surface-level character development.
You’d be hard-pressed to really dislike Most Beautiful Island, though – despite its engagement within its own running time – you’d be equally stumped to try and love it either. As a feature debut, however, there’s moments of genuinely powerful stuff in here, and Asensio instantly asserts herself as an enticing new voice for world cinema. It’s not a great movie, but it’s an impressive first go.
Most Beautiful Island is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, December 1st; rated 18. Check out the trailer below.