May 10, 2008

Oasis: When Inside the Heart Is Outside the Box

Before he was a filmmaker, Lee Chang-dong was a novelist. It shows. He's a master storyteller unafraid of the implausible or the extreme. Oasis, his third film as writer-director, starts off like some bit of French New-Wave-meets-Cassavettes filmmaking. It's got the shaky handheld cinematography, the oddball camera angles, and the screwball antihero (Sol Kyung-gu) who you can't help but like. You might call what follows a quirky romance but to classify Oasis as a love story would be to pigeonhole a movie that's really oustide the norm. Does the protagonist fall in love with the severely handicapped girl (a fearless Moon So-ri) who he's befriended out of guilt for past crimes? Yes and no. He certainly doesn't say so. And since he can't think straight and she can't speak clearly, you're in danger of assigning meaning where there's really just a mystery. Except for a few daydreamed sequences, these two characters rarely mirror the classic mating dance because they always read as two separate beings even when he's got her on his back. In fact, Oasis is more than anything a reminder to us of how outsider status is embedded in our deepest relationships even if we're not handicapped physically or mentally in an easily diagnosable way. We're always individuals. We're always struggling to make ourselves heard. And at our best, we're always listening.

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