Ana Asensio in Most Beautiful Island (Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn films)

Most Beautiful Island is a disturbingly relevant tale about the contemporary plight of undocumented immigrants. A hardy Spanish immigrant, Luciana, played by director Ana Asensio, traverses through a mucky terrain of exploitative work until her journey culminates in a “game” that challenges her humanity (as well as what she’s willing to do for money). She also shares her plight with another immigrant, a Russian woman named Olga (Natasha Romanova).

The story begins with the two of them working various odd jobs around New York City, dressing up in chicken costumes and handing out advertisement wavers to pedestrians, as well as babysitting unruly (and extremely unlikable) bourgeoisie toddlers. Eventually, Olga lands Luciana a job at a clandestine party where they are subject to a mysterious and potentially deadly game.

As Luciana, Asensio gives a pretty stunning performance her. She conveys the helplessness that derives from the precariousness of Luciana’s meager material existence as well as the internal rebellion that stems from Luciana’s years of being essentially a modern slave. It’s a rough character, and Asensio inhabits the role with seamless fluidity.

But as impressive as Asensio’s performance is, the film as a whole tends to lag structurally. Scenes leading up to the denouncement go on for way longer than they should, as if Asensio is trying to hold off unveiling the final magic trick for as long as possible just to stall, as well as to keep the running time to feature length (it caps right at 80 minutes). The amount of time she makes the audience wait for what happens next to Luciana does not live up to the buildup. The film is essentially a one-trick pony in this respect.

Additionally, Luciana’s relationship with her friend Olga is unclear. Given how much time Asensio devotes to making us sweat over the climax, it’s a wonder why she didn’t input more time into clarifying Luciana and Olga’s relationship. Why didn’t Olga tell Luciana about what they would eventually be doing at this “party?” She doesn’t seem like a great, much less real, friend. The nature of their friendship is crucial if we are to understand Luciana’s actions.

One can certainly see the allegorical approach Asensio is taking here. The final “game” that Luciana and Olga is forced to play is supposed to ring bells about the exploitative nature of American society on cheap (and undocumented) immigrant labor. The rich simply view women like Luciana and Olga as commodities whose lives can be expended at a market’s price. And for all of New York City’s often raved about diversity, Asensio rightfully does not shy away from the overt classism that exists concomitant with it. With all its distracting flaws and lack of structural finesse, Most Beautiful Island is certainly worth thinking about.

Written and Directed by Ana Asensio
Released by Orion Pictures/Samuel Goldwyn Films
USA. 80 min. Not rated
With Asensio, Natasha Romanova, Caprice Benedetti, and Larry Fessenden