Flee is a fascinating documentary for a couple of reasons. First is its story. Predominantly in Danish, it is about a young man’s journey from the oppression of Afghanistan to a safe place he can call his home. Second is its style. The movie is animated (with occasional live-action news footage to accentuate what its protagonist is saying). The animation isn’t special in and of itself; it is straight-forward, realistic, unflashy. It allows the filmmakers to show things they definitely could not have otherwise (it also makes it easier to hide the identity of their subject). The animation never becomes a distraction, nor does it soften this harrowing tale. It is likely the only way this could’ve been made, especially with this high a level of emotional impact. The result feels like the perfect way to tell this moving story.
Amin has spent most of his life telling everyone that his family died escaping from Afghanistan. Now on the verge of starting a new life with the man he loves, he decides he must finally tell the full truth about how he made it from Kabul to Copenhagen and what really became of his family.
While Amin’s story spans decades and countries, two things are consistent throughout: one is a prevailing sense of unease and fear of being sent back to Afghanistan. The other is the yearning for family.
It is impossible to comprehend how difficult it must have been for him, not just to be by himself, but to actually deny the existence of the people he loved the most. When it comes, the explanation for why he lied for all these years is even sadder because it is clear that he had no other choice. Family is such a strong thread during his story; his fear of being rejected by them when they find out he is gay, his desire to be with them and his greater desire that they be safe. It certainly makes sense that what has inspired him to reveal the truth is the possibility of beginning a new family.
Due to its style and the fact that it is told in flashback form, it is impressive how stressful Flee is at times. It is not graphic, yet the descriptions of what Amin and his family had to go through to find a new home are upsetting. Trips with untrustworthy traffickers, encounters with corrupt police, even conversations with neighbors; anything could send them right back into danger. The animated recreations somehow feel more honest than live-action ones would have been. They do not feel manipulative or melodramatic. It is almost like the viewer is being let into Amin’s head, experiencing his recollections with him. It is as though bringing people inside his memories is what he had to do so he could get past the pain of relating his journey for the first time. Watching the screen, it never felt like looking at a cartoon. He may be animated, but that was Amin, bearing his soul.
The story of a refugee desperately trying to leave a potentially deadly situation is always timely, with debates regarding whether or not to allow them in occurring constantly in seemingly every country around the world. Flee (85 minutes, minus the end credits) puts a human face on this issue. It does so without being political. Amin doesn’t have time for politics. He is too busy worrying about he and his family being safe. If there is anything more universal than that, I don’t know what it is.
4¼ out of 5
Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Written by Amin Nawabi and Jonas Poher Rasmussen