Underpass is a fifteen-minute film about a Cambodian family (survivors of the “Killing Fields”) trying to survive in the USA while also assisting an illegal immigrant, possibly from Mexico. It is about trying to stay sane in a violent world. It is about trying to play by the rules, and still be humane. It is about living with your nightmares.
There is a brilliant colorful thread, which runs throughout this story – the art of the main character, Sann. His art is illegal. He paints pictures under a bridge, hence the title Underpass. What he paints is both beautiful and horrible. He is trying to live with his memories of Cambodia. The resolution, and how the boy comes to terms with his memories of the Cambodian “Killing Fields,” is within his artwork under the bridge! We, the viewers, see the drawings come to life. We see the people killed; blood is spilled. You soon realize that the animation is Sann’s artwork. It is the plot of the film unfolding.
Sann’s mother, who runs a doughnut shop in San Diego, is trying to help an illegal immigrant. The boy wants to turn the illegal immigrant in, but his mother believes “others helped us survive. We should help others…” His mother and sister get along well in the community. There’s a police officer, who comes to the store and talks to the mother. He is also a Cambodian native. He is supportive of the mother, but Sann is hostile towards him.
The conflict within Sann’s psyche is interesting. He is fighting the system (painting his graffiti), and yet combating his memories. Why would he want to turn in the illegal immigrant? Is he afraid of the system here? For someone who lives with the scars of what war and government does, it is a little strange that he would want to turn in this immigrant. However, at one point - and this is depicted in the artwork - Sann finds peace. He regrets that he called the authorities. He tells the immigrant to run. Why Sann makes this impulsive decision is not clear. He begs his mother’s forgiveness, and she does forgive.
My only real problem with this film (besides hating to see bloodshed) is that sometimes the characters mumble. However, that also makes the film more “real.” Real people do not speak clearly! Rain Breaw attended, as she puts it “one of the most diverse schools in the country.” Almost every student in this high school has experienced war and genocide, firsthand. Underpass is loosely based on Breaw’s experience at this high school.
Breaw has produced numerous short films, including the award winning Thermopylae and Archer House. Presently, Breaw and her writing/producing partner, Julie Sifuentes, are working on two feature film projects: Bearing it All and City Heights.
I would recommend Underpass because it is a reminder of what America really is – a melting pot of different cultures. Since the birth of this nation, we have been a nation of immigrants. It’s ironic, don’t you think, considering the present day conservative backlash against immigrants? Watch Underpass for a glimpse of the real USA.