Film review: Flee mixes animation and documentary to tell the story of a refugee
Amin’s trip from Afghanistan to Moscow and Denmark was a tragedy at the wrong time
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You may think of the animated documentary as a rare and modern invention, but the first such film dates back over a century and tells the story of the Lusitania, an ocean liner sunk by a German submarine. in 1915. The form was then so new that the 12-minute short film doubles as its own making-of.
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More recently, the years 2007 Persepolis and 2008 Waltz with Bashir proved the power of animated feature film, earning Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Language Feature, respectively.
To flee , the most recent to use this style to tell a true story, comes from Danish documentary filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen. It is basically a series of conversations with an Afghan refugee living in Denmark planning to marry her boyfriend. But a life spent suppressing his sexuality, nationality and even his family has left him emotionally scarred and unwilling to trust even those close to him.
The flight of Amin Nawabi (not her real name) from his homeland is a tragedy of bad timing. Growing up in Afghanistan in the 1980s meant facing the Soviet invasion. When the family fled to Moscow, the Union had just fallen, leading to bureaucratic chaos and police corruption. When they tried to take a steamboat fleeing to Sweden, they were “rescued” by Estonian border police and returned, now penniless, to Russia. Another attempt led to the family splitting up and dispersing it among several nations.
It’s a heartbreaking story, enlivened a bit by a few happy moments, like when another refugee gives Amin a necklace, or Amin’s older brother’s funny reaction when he turns out to be gay.
There is a line in his story that marked me. “Most people can’t even begin to imagine how much running away like this affects you… how much it destroys you.” I certainly can’t. But like all great documentaries, Rasmussen’s framing of Amin’s story goes a long way in bridging that gap.
Flee opens December 17 in Montreal and Toronto, with more cities to follow.
4 out of 5 stars