Runtime: 83 minutes
Director/Writer: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Actors: Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskandari, Belal Faiz, Elaha Faiz, Zahra Mehrwarz
By Tom Moore
Refugee stories are becoming more and more important to hear as they shed light on the hardships many are facing in simply trying to find safety and homestead. Filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen emphasizes that more than ever with his latest documentary “Flee”(2021).
“Flee” tells the story of Amin, a man who’s been hiding his story of being a child refugee from Afghanistan that’s now decided to tell his story as he prepares for marriage and to take big steps forward in his life. Now, first and foremost, there’s absolutely no way anyone could really get into the deeply emotional and personal journey of “Flee” without talking about its animation as it’s a choice that heavily elevates and impacts the storytelling. While there are some live-action elements mostly used to create an authentic connection to time and locations, every other part of Amin’s story is animated and its such a bold but beneficial decision.
Not only does the animation create a visually pleasing experience that’s greatly detailed, but it adds new layers to Amin’s story and storytelling. By animating Amin’s story, Rasmussen can keep parts of Amin’s story confidential in more organic ways and let Amin be more in charge of telling his story. With there obviously being no archived footage or photos of Amin’s journey out of Afghanistan with his family, the story being animated allows for more of Amin’s story to be told, and with Amin having more agency in telling his story, the more dramatized parts of his story maintain their authenticity because Amin’s voice persists throughout. Rather than take over Amin’s story, the animation constantly elevates it and adds another layer to the thrilling, harrowing story of Amin and his family seeking refuge.
With the level of detail and emotion in Amin’s storytelling, “Flee” is a first-person perspective on the refugee experience. The detailed account Amin gives really immerses viewers into the hopelessness and harshness that Amin and his family faced for many years. His entire retelling of him, his brother, and his mother attempting to flee to Europe through human traffickers absolutely makes your heart sink with horrific conditions and treacherous paths they are forced to take and leaves a lump in your throat because of the tense atmosphere of the entire situation. Even the encounters he and his family have with Russian police leave you on edge because it’s never clear how things are going to pan out and there’s one encounter in particular that Amin looks back on that truly rocks you to your core with the sickening corruption that’s shown in the Russian police force.
Honestly, it’s really interesting to hear Amin’s retrospective on situations as it really makes his voice in the story more powerful with the level of genuine human pain you can feel in him talking about his journey. Even though Amin finally being able to tell his story definitely feels like a giant, soul-crushing weight is being lifted off his shoulders, it never feels easy for him to revisit this past and touch on the challenges he faced. His pain and fear are palpable years later and it really emphasizes the trauma and paranoia many refugees suffer even after they find safety. It’s also great though that this persisting fear doesn’t define Amin and that Rasmussen allows for viewers to see the more positive elements of Amin’s life in the present and even fleshes out their relationship off-camera.
Through telling his refugee experience, Amin is also able to talk more openly about him being a gay Afghani man and sort of finding himself throughout this experience. There are some really fun, playful elements of Amin opening up about his sexuality, like his crush on Jean-Claude Van Damme growing up and his relationship with his now-husband, that mix well with the heartwarming moments of him telling his family and the impact of their acceptance. Truth be told, it would’ve been nice to see this aspect of Amin’s story have a little more to it just to open up about homosexuality persecution in Afghani culture – especially with the fears and concerns that stem from the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. However, it’s still a powerful aspect of Amin’s story as it plays a strong role in his coming-of-age journey as a refugee and adds more depth to the overall experience.
“Flee” gives the refugee experience a necessary voice and vision through Amin’s story that mixes excellently with Rasmussen’s direction and the film’s bold animation to offer a harrowing and moving experience that everyone should take the time to see.