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By Norman Gidney | October 18, 2021

SAN DIEGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! I can honestly say that I have never seen a film quite like Flee. A mixed-medium documentary, so-to-speak, the movie recounts narratives staged through expressive animation that is complimented by archival footage that results in a more engaging and ultimately more fulfilling story than anything you are likely to see this year. Using audio interviews as the basis for painterly animation and visuals, Afghan refugee Amin tells his harrowing story of escape and ultimate redemption to documentarian and close friend Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

We begin as Rasmussen sits with Amin in Copenhagen. Amin talks of his childhood in Kabul, how he never really fit in, and how he used to run around, wearing his sister’s nightgowns as a child. Soon war broke out in 1984, and Amin’s father is considered an enemy of the incoming regime. With his father whisked away by the police, young Amin and his mother, brothers, and sisters flee to Moscow. While Amin’s eldest brother had fled to Sweden years ago and arranged a tenement apartment in Russia, he cannot stay. The family’s ultimate goal is to be together again in Europe.

How will Amin ever be reunited with his family that has been scattered by the winds of war? What will they do if they ever find out he is gay? How did Amin, a refugee from Afghanistan, eventually earn a doctorate? More importantly, how did he meet his long-suffering boyfriend in Denmark? Through a bracing pastiche of methods, we are taken on a harrowing journey that must have A-list directors, this very minute clamoring for option rights. It is beautiful and gripping; Flee is a must-see.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

“With his father whisked away by the police, young Amin and his mother, brothers, and sisters flee to Moscow.”

I think what truly impressed me most was the humanity on display. There is a courtesy, a kindness that Rasmussen has with his subject and friend of many years that is heartfelt and endearing. We learn how the two met, we see an artist’s rendering of their prom pictures, and we begin to understand why Amin kept such a painful secret about his history for so long. It all makes sense in the end, but here we see a kind-hearted soul that has fled from a war-torn country, exiled in a communist country, and eventually (not a spoiler) ended up in Copenhagen only to find love and a home.

Why the animation? To retain anonymity. It is as much a safeguard as it is an echo of the repercussions of being a refugee. Yet this method offers some lovely advantages that seem to blur the line without crossing it. We are anchored by audio and memory. The visuals are a lovely flourish that softens the harsh memories that Amin relays.

As the credits began to roll, I was filled with hopefulness. There are terrors in this world that some of us can’t even imagine. Flee teaches us to stop and hear one of a million stories from as many people fleeing to a better future.

Flee screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and the 2021 San Diego International Film Festival.

Flee (2021)

Directed and Written: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Starring: Amin, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Flee Image

"…anchored by audio and memory. The visuals are a lovely flourish..."

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