Animated documentaries may be few and far between, but this is an affecting work that skilfully details an Afghan refugee’s harrowing life story fleeing from war and conflict, and more introspectively, from himself.
Dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen
2021 | Denmark | Animation/Documentary/Biography | 90 mins | 2.40:1 | Danish, English, Dari, Russian & Swedish
M18 (passed clean) for thematic content, disturbing images and strong language
Plot: Amin Nawabi, a 36-year-old high-achieving academic, grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, the story of his journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan. This traumatic past threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon to be husband.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best International Feature, Best Documentary, Best Animated Feature; Won Grand Jury Prize – World Cinema Documentary (Sundance)
International Sales: Cinephil (SG: Lighthouse Pictures)
Subject Matter: Moderate – War Refugee, Identity, Trauma, LGBTQ
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: The Projector
This film is about fleeing from war. I saw this just hours before Russia invaded Ukraine, a sickening act of aggression against a sovereign state.
But I only completed this review on Day 5 of the invasion, still praying for a speedy resolution and peace to prevail once again. War hurts and civilians are hurt most as they become refugees hoping to seek shelter in another country.
Here Amin Nawabi, an Afghan refugee, recounts for the first time his harrowing life story to Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the director of this animated documentary.
Animated documentaries may be few and far between (my favourite is 2008’s Waltz with Bashir), but this is an affecting work that charts the trauma of fleeing.
Unable to find a safe space for nearly his entire life, Amin is also a gay man. As such, and more introspectively, he is also fleeing from himself—at one point in the film, he asks: is there a cure for homosexuality?
“We have no idea what’s going to happen to us. No one tells us anything.”
He is in a better place now, soon to be marrying his husband and having a place to call home, but Flee is not about looking towards a future of stability but looking back at the turbulence of life and navigating the present desire for closure.
The first film in the history of the Oscars to be nominated for Best International Feature, Best Documentary Feature and Best Animated Feature at the same time, Flee uses animation to imagine a torrid past.
Its rough-hewn and occasionally abstract aesthetic style is typical of independent animation, and is at its best when capturing a chaotic and frantic atmosphere to match its protagonist’s—and his family’s—predicaments.
As a Danish production, some feel that Flee still suffers from the Western gaze. While that may be true to some extent, this is still Amin’s story to tell (he has a co-screenwriting credit) and it is as personal and revelatory as it gets.