Although it’s an undeniably grim pick for Cinco De Mayo (especially coming off yesterday’s equally dour and topical feature, Nacido de Nuevo), Oasis, from Carmen Jiménez, is a fitting selection for a holiday celebrating Mexican heritage and culture, focusing on the story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant who is forced to make a choice between morality and self preservation.
Without spoiling the central reveal, Jimenez crafts what is essentially a suspense-horror film—we watch with dread as the narrative slowly reveals the darkest aspects of humanity. But, the genre trimmings are supplemented with what is, at it’s heart, a character piece. Nieves, the protagonist, is the film’s core—she’s a woman struggling to find comfort and a sense of place in what is very much a foreign land. In effect, the film provides an equal balance of dark suspense and empathetic character work.
Although the film premiered on the festival circuit way back in 2014 (well before a Trump presidency seemed remotely feasible), its prescience is somewhat uncanny. The topic of immigration is certainly a hot-button issue. And, while I don’t mean to imply that Jiménez is making some sort of broad political statement, the film does provide an often under-seen portrayal of the immigrant experience within this country.
As Jiménez relates in an e-mail conversation with Short of the Week:
“As an immigrant myself, I feel a very strong connection with the the life of those who left their countries to seek a better life in the US. An opportunity that always comes with a sacrifice. When I started writing ‘Oasis’ I only knew that Nieves, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, would be the main character of my story. I wanted to portray the immigrant experience and the unfathomable breach that happens inside all of us who ventured away from our home countries.”
The film has a wonderfully gloomy aesthetic sensibility: Jiménez cites the paintings of George de la Tour as visual inspiration. Lensed by cinematographer Sean Porter (20th Century Women, Green Room), compositions represent the visual intersection of dark and light. This complements a central theme of the film: the idea that behind every idyllic, bright space, there potentially lies something much more sinister.
Created as Jiménez’s thesis film while at Columbia University, Oasis has since appeared at more than fifty film festival around the world. Although it took a long time, we’re glad it’s finally made its way online.