Ragtag Cinema: Homebrewed/Most Beautiful Island

One of my favorite films of the year opens this weekend: Most Beautiful Island. I programmed this film in June as part of the Homebrewed series at Ragtag Cinema, the series finale & an incredible directorial debut!

Part psychological horror, part social issue thriller, part clawing NY portraiture the film's narrative is hard to write about because there is a slow growing tension that builds throughout; each scene and detail is a deliberate, thoughtful step towards the climax. In short, Luciana is a recent immigrant to NY, taking on shady Craigslist gigs in order to scrape by. Her shrouded past is hinted at, guilt and shame seem to haunt her very being. Slowly moments of eerie-ness start to creep in blurring the lines of reality and supernatural in a way similar to (unfortunately) Polanski's film Repulsion (an influence confirmed by Director, Writer Star Ana Asensio during our post-film Skype Q&A). One fateful job sends Luciana into a dark Manhattan basement where a high stakes game of fear and fate leaves the audience on the edge of their seat.

The Q&A with Asensio following the screening was everything I ever wanted in a Q&A! Asensio arrived on screen late- thanks to a sick child- apologizing profusely but quickly able to pivot into film talk. One audience question was about the children in the film- babysitter one of the jobs taken on by Luciana and also one of the few professions often offered to undocumented workers. The audience member wanted to know how Asensio was able to get such a pure performance out of the kids, a question the Director seemed so excited to be asked knowing full well the difficulty that child actors can bring. She said she added an arm cast to one of the children, giving him a prop to diffuse the awkwardness of a film set: misdirection directing, so smart!

Being Asensio's directorial debut, one that she wrote and starred in as well, I asked a lot about her approach to filmmaking; how does one direct while in front of the camera? Coming from a career in stage acting, Asensio said she treated the experience much like a theater set, knowing her relation to the things and people around her while keeping in mind a general sense of the camera's frame. We also talked briefly about the film being shot on 16mm film, a ri$ky undertaking that gave the film a dreamy Cassavetes veneer and a feeling of an old New York, slightly displacing the film in time and aesthetically adding to the hazy unease. Asensio admitted that some reshoots were done digitally but processed to match the film stock, a smooth, imperceptible transition that made me wonder why more people don't try this hack? Or maybe they secretly are...?

At one point in Asensio's life she found herself between visas in New York City, a precarious position that caused her to have to live partly underground, job to job. One particular job sent her into a party at a house that just didn't feel right; she wanted to leave, she felt unsafe. This is the core of Most Beautiful Island, this feeling of being suffocated in the name of possibility. Embarking on a new life isn't just a haphazard choice it is a decision that quite often brings with it risk and fear: in some cases there isn't even a choice. Seeing this film and hearing the truth behind it makes it even more harrowing and vital. Most Beautiful Island isn't just a masterful horror film it is also a window into a human life behind a political issue whose rhetoric has moved so far beyond reality that one could say it is encroaching on real life acts of horror...



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.