Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews

"By animating the whole movie, Rasmussen makes the story feel more immersive and of a whole piece."

Trauma is a hell of a thing to live with, which means making a documentary about it can be a hell of a challenge. Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is about an anonymous subject who has never talked about his remarkable story, and shuts down if he tries. Yet, through animation and persistent interviews, the movie provides a glimpse into what the man, known as Amin, has been through.

A reserved academic living in Denmark, Amin has told almost no one about how he fled Afghanistan in the 90s, then continued to try to get out of post-Soviet Russia after that. He hasn’t even told his boyfriend, whom he’s getting ready to marry. It’s clear that while he’s now comfortable with his homosexuality, which was taboo in his homeland, he still feels like an outsider.

Rasmussen met Amin as a teenager and has been friends with him ever since, and frames Amin’s story with interviews that play more like a therapy session than a typical talking head. Amin lies on his back and we look down at his face as he remembers things in fits and starts, flashing back to early memories of listening to A-ha in his sister’s dress before he’s able to approach more dramatic moments. We do, however, get some insight into why he’s so reluctant: The only time he ever told someone about his past, it was an ex-lover who used it against him.

Documentaries often use animation for info graphics or to sub in for footage that doesn’t exist, but such usage typically comes in the form of an interlude. By animating the whole movie, Rasmussen makes the story feel more immersive and of a whole piece. However, he doesn’t aim for the expressionistic flare other animated documentaries, like Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir (2008). Instead, the scenes still feel grounded in reality — just a reality with a unique look.

In contemporary scenes, the artwork features moody lighting effects and candid compositions that feel like authentic moments of Amin’s life, animated partly to protect his identity. The aesthetic downside is that the low frame rate of the animation can make the lines move in a distractingly stilted manner. The result sometimes makes the subjects’ emotions less engaging.

The most effective passages are the ones in which Amin describes his memories – some touching moments between family members, others harrowing interactions with human smugglers. The scenes feel freer, perhaps because the filmmakers have more leeway to visually interpret the memories. These segments really connect to Amin on a human level — the thing he often has trouble doing. Because even if we never get to a concrete idea of what’s going on in Amin’s mind, we join in feeling the tenderness and horrors that shaped him.

Reviewed on: 22 Oct 2021
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Amin arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. Today, he is a successful academic and is getting married to his long-time boyfriend. A secret he has been hiding for 20 years threatens to ruin the life he has built.
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Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Writer: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Year: 2021

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Denmark, France, Sweden, Norway

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