Most Beautiful Island 2017. Directed & Written by Ana Asensio.
Starring Ana Asensio, Natasha Romanova, David Little, Nicholas Tucci, Larry Fessenden, Caprice Benedetti, Anna Myrha, Ami Sheth, Miriam A. Hyman, Sara Visser, Natalie Zvereva, Jennifer Sorika Wolf, & Fenella A. Chudoba.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
The only time prior to now I’d seen Ana Asensio – and I didn’t know it until looking through her credits as an actress – was as a small role in a film with Timothy Hutton, The Kovak Box. So, it was interesting to see her crop up with Most Beautiful Island, not only acting, but writing and producing, as well.
Asensio does a fantastic job playing the role of Luciana, a young immigrant to America, undocumented, whose life gets more and more desperate as she struggles to find work without citizenship. It’s a story that isn’t new. However, Asensio shows us a brand new, dark side of this familiar tale.
Emerging from the film is a contemporary examination of the American Dream, and how that idea, now in the 21st century, has decayed, eroding from the bedrock of what American society envisioned it to be back when the country was young. Today, people think immigrants and undocumented workers are taking their jobs, when the reality is much darker. Because women such as Luciana, they’re forced to seek out jobs far worse than the majority of American-born citizens will ever have to do.
Well, the American Dream’s never specified as a good job, and in reality the pursuity of happiness implies an unhappiness which precedes it. This unhappiness is seen via the POV of Luciana, trying to survive the big city of New York. She’s caught somewhere between a hopeful working class existence as a nanny to rich kids, and a darker world of the lowest of the working class, where the woman’s body is a commodity, where economic survival drives women without privilege to do whatever’s necessary in order to make money.
But Asensio goes a different way than what the viewer’s initially led to believe, she pivots from the typical idea of sex work that might feel typical of a film such as this one. Luciana’s American Dream leads her to a strange place, where rich people pay to see strange, dangerous things.
Something we see, that isn’t often portrayed, is how the so-called Dream pits immigrants against one another. Immigrants, no matter where they’re from, often need to stick together, or else nobody is there for them in their new country. Sometimes not even other immigrants, depending on the pay, if it’s good. The American Dream puts people at odds, the pressure of the individual being number one turns everyone against each other eventually. We see that to a major extent here.
Although Luciana proves she will not let the whole decaying process of the near dead American Dream – at least as it was originally conceived – turn her against others in need such as herself. She makes a decision near the end of the film, when she puts herself on the line for someone else, even when the favour hasn’t been and never would be returned. She proves herself a good person, unwilling to let her experiences as an undocumented citizen in the uncaring streets of America break her will.
There’s a significant amount of insect imagery in Most Beautiful Island. With such a dark atmosphere, the mood and tone both unsettling all the way through, this imagery seems to play into that idea of the deteriorating American Dream, as well as the dangers inherent in the search to find it.
Such as the duct taped hole in the wall by Luciana’s tub, behind which hides teeming rows of cockroaches. This image is symbolic of the barely existent threshold separating immigrants from the disgusting, the figurative insects infesting their environment, and it’s an early sign of a lurking hideousness, just underneath everything Luciana experiences. Also, it’s a metaphor for her own mental state: on the surface she’s okay, but digging deeper a little we see the infestation growing in her mind, the darkness always threatening to consume her.
Perhaps my favourite image comes right at the end. After a horrific near death, or at the very least near severely ill night, Luciana spends a tiny bit of money for an ice cream – her own, not for the bratty kids to whom she plays nanny. She licks her cone, a slight smile on her face. She’s survived. And just the idea of her getting that ice cream, such a tiny gesture for herself. You can see her enjoy it, appreciate it. In that moment, the viewer’s led to the notion that those who struggle so hard, in such desperate, dangerous ways, are often times much more appreciative of the normal things the rest of us take for granted.
Most Beautiful Island closes with Luciana, enjoying her ice cream, heading home in the night. This is a microcosm of her life, and the life of so many immigrants and undocumented citizens, where the dark and the light – the sour, the sweet – are in constant flux, right next to each other co-existing.
Ultimately, this is the American Dream: kill yourself, almost, to love, and you might just get a sweet treat, after you pay the bills, your rent, everything else. Maybe. And a lot of times nowadays, not even.
Asensio’s film is about shattering the notions that undocumented citizens in America are piggybacking off the system, and in turn the taxpayers. People don’t want to look at things hard enough, they want to find a scapegoat; it’s easy to throw the blame onto immigrants.
If Americans want to stick so hard to their 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, then they might also want to stick to the rest of their dusty old documents. Seems to me like the country’s busy worrying about those guns, trying to let everybody get their hands on them, while the American Dream rots in the hands of wealthy politicians and corporations. Meanwhile, people like Luciana are lucky to make it home from work alive.