VOD film review: Flee
Katherine McLaughlin | On 11, Feb 2022
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Cast: Rashid Aitouganov, Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskandari, Belal Faiz, Elaha Faiz
At one point in this profoundly moving, Sundance award-winning animated documentary, subject Amin confides to his school friend and director, Jonas Poher Rasmussen: “I’m not quite ready to tell the whole story.” Is Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym) understandably too traumatised to speak fully about his terrifying passage from Afghanistan, via a volatile stop with his family in Moscow, to successful academic in Denmark? Is he hiding a secret? Or is it both? These are the questions that cross your mind while watching this exquisitely crafted film, which takes unpredictable and tense turns.
Amin narrates his own story, through a series of interviews conducted over the course of about four years. The images switch between impressionistic black-and white-drawings (beautifully reminiscent of a-Ha’s Take on Me music video) and realistic colour animation, to reflect Amin’s state of mind as he draws from his distressing past to deal with his current life. It’s a form of catharsis and therapy, where even the narrator surprises himself with what he can eventually recall by being vulnerable and open to his friend. Like Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis before it, the use of animation is freeing, evocative and imaginative.
Playing out as captivating memoir, the film covers Amin’s childhood in Kabul in the 1980s up to the present day where he is building a new life with his boyfriend, Kasper. Archive footage and newsreels are interspersed in between personal account as a stark reminder of the huge number of people impacted by violence and inhumane treatment in their search for safety and a place to call home.
Growing up, Amin’s joyful early years at home are translated with gorgeous images of playtime and family interactions. His coming out is charted with a mixture of dread and delightful sexual awakenings, one even accompanied by Roxette’s Joyride. With all these stories told from one individual perspective, the colour, detail, personality and empathy of Amin shines through, even in the darkest of the situations he describes.
The big takeaway from Amin’s story is how much guilt he’s had to reckon with in his journey into adulthood. Guilt at his family’s sacrifice, guilt at his survival and guilt for doing what he needed to do in order to survive. Rasmussen’s delicately pieced together documentary helps Amin to unpack his feelings and, in turn, delivers unexpected emotional wallop after emotional wallop. It also confronts the viewer with an asylum-seeking system that directly or indirectly places many people in dangerous situations, and the long-lasting psychological impact of that.
This review was originally published during the 2021 London Film Festival.