The most memorable movies often put you into the brains of people you've never thought much about getting inside the brains of before. It's a bit like how a horror movie can color an entire experience - how many times have you heard it talked about that "You'll never go swimming again after watching Jaws" or "You'll never take a shower again after watching Psycho" or "You'll never eat greasy meat product from a filthy road-side gas station again after watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?"
Well after watching Moonlight you'll probably never look askance at a low-level Miami drug-dealer, or after watching Jeanne Dielman you might never again see a Belgian housewife washing potatoes without bursting into tears. And I know now that after watching Most Beautiful Island I'll never look at those nearly-naked ex-models hocking who-knows-what pamphlets in Times Square with anything but awe and empathy.
Most Beautiful Island tells a day in the life of Luciana (played by writer-director Ana Anensio, a real discovery on all counts), an undocumented young woman in NYC who's suffering from strange stomach pains and who is always in need of cash - to pay a doctor, to eat, to get from one place to another. The latter is especially important because this kind of day-to-day survival is ruthlessly restless - babysitting at one end of the island and then waving those pamphlets at the other takes effort and time, and all of Luciana's is eaten up loping from extreme to extreme.
And that's before we even get to the mysterious gig her friend Olga's offered up over by the West Side Highway. By the time Luciana's descending into that Chinese Restaurant's basement, her sneakers stuffed in a trash can, we're already out of breath, and the air's running out real quick. Most Beautiful Island runs on bad decisions that are really the only decisions, and becomes a horror story about urban survival; it's an inverted Hostel in a way, where the Dumb American Tourists are now everyone, the zombie horde, while we the viewer now play the role of othered, the overlooked, the one reduced to a stage prop in somebody else's sick game who can't do much but be quiet and nod and try to game the system we've been gamed out of ourselves with whatever we have handy, even if it's just the instinct to get to tomorrow still intact.
It's pulse-quickening because of how terrifyingly possible it seems, even (or maybe especially) as it becomes outlandish. We Americans demand no less than all the world turned chattel, exploited for our bizarre and inhumane entertainment. Learn to play, ye wretched refuse teeming to breathe free, or despair, and despair's no fun..
Most Beautiful Island is out in limited release now!