Most Beautiful Island: The contrasts of New York
by Alfonso Rivera
- Ana Asensio makes her directorial debut with this morbid portrait of a consumer society, descending into the bowels of a sprawling city that harbours the best, but also the worst, of the human race
Ana Asensio is happy, and she’s not afraid to show it: after leaving Madrid more than ten years ago to earn a living in New York, and after having hundreds of adventures there – not all of which positive – she has returned to Europe with her directorial debut, the psychological thriller Most Beautiful Island [+see also:
interview: Ana Asensio
film profile], a movie in equal parts disturbing and independent, which was crowned with the Special Jury Prize at the most recent SXSW in Austin (USA), and will over the next few days be delighting audiences at the Sitges (see the news) and London (see the news) Film Festivals.
Most Beautiful Island is an ironic and disenchanted title: the film opens with shots of women blending into the heaving mass of people who swarm every day amidst the Manhattan skyscrapers. They are anonymous but tenacious girls trying with all their might to barge their way through a merciless and competitive world. Among them we see Luciana (played by Ana Asensio herself, who as a performer has appeared in TV series and films such as The Afterlight, Zenith and The Archive), an actress who has left behind many things: her family, her country and a traumatic incident that she would rather forget (although that’s easier said than done). It is something akin to what happened to the main character in Nobody’s Watching [+see also:
film profile] by Julia Solomonoff, although each film subsequently heads off down very different paths.
Given the circumstances, Luciana accepts any kind of job she is offered, including those that she never thought herself capable of doing, just in order to be able to live (or get by) in the City of Dreams. One day, a friend of hers suggests they go to an exclusive, top-secret party: all she needs to do is wear something chic and sexy; in return, she will be given a tidy sum of money. And that marks the start of a nightmare beyond her wildest imagination.
Asensio infused the screenplay of Most Beautiful Island with many of the worries and anxieties that she experienced herself and was forced to endure as an immigrant in a rather uncongenial county. For the purposes of this fictionalisation, she has moulded them into a thriller structure, as she follows the main character in her attempts not only to survive, but also to escape her own ghosts. The shadows of Polanski and Kubrick loom large here, but they are the inescapable masters when it comes to depicting claustrophobic, stifling, twisted conflicts.
With her nimble camera, scant resources but a whole lot of nerve, Asensio, especially in the second part of the film, knows exactly how to make good use of several resources: sound, keeping things out of shot and providing scarce information so that the viewer can finish off the story using his or her very own nightmare. The anguish as we witness a room full of girls waiting their turn to be admitted through a door becomes truly unbearable. Thanks to all of these elements, not only does the director pull off her debut with flying colours, but also, as mentioned above, she has been rewarded for her effort and courage with an unexpected, but thoroughly well-deserved, prize.
Most Beautiful Island was produced by Glass Eye Pix, Palomo Films and the director herself. It will be released in Spain in January 2018 by ConUnPack. The UK distribution will be handled by Bulldog. Its international sales agent is US firm The Film Sales Company.
(Translated from Spanish)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.