TIFF 2021: ‘Flee’ Uses a Unique Approach to Tackle a Heavy Subject

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FLEE Documentary poster

Flee is an animated documentary directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, based on a true story. It is distributed by NEON Pictures and produced by Riz Ahmed (Encounter) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones). The documentary centers on a man named Amin Nawabi who shares the details of his life with Rasmussen. Amin recalls his childhood years in Afghanistan and his travels to Russia and Denmark, which includes struggling to hang onto his family and coming to terms with his sexuality.

Much like fellow TIFF entry YuniFlee approaches the coming-of-age genre via the perspective of a South Asian protagonist. However, it tackles the perspective of growing up as an immigrant, which holds immense resonance due to the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. Amin reveals at the beginning of the film that this is the first time he’s opened up about his life story in years. Even though this is an animated feature, the pain in his voice and in his eyes is palpable. Watching this, I couldn’t help but feel for this man who was ripped from his home and his family over the course of several years. He encounters obstacles that would break even the strongest soul, and he came out the other end relatively unscathed. It’s a wonder that he managed to find the strength to talk about his life.

The film also deals with Amin coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay. In one of the lighter scenes, he recalls having a massive crush on Jean-Claude Van Damme. In addition to the past sequences featuring Amin struggling to talk with his family about his sexuality, the film often cuts to Denmark where he lives with his fiance Kasper. Amin and Kasper have a loving relationship; they’re affectionate with each other and they’re even looking for a new home. The scenes of Amin slowly warming to life in the countryside run parallel to the details he shares with Rasmussen, showing that he is attempting to make peace with his past and build a future.

The animation utilized in Flee is simple, yet striking, opening with a series of broad brushstrokes that slowly take the form of a young Amin. The adult Amin is shown lying on a rug, which allows him to talk to Rasmussen with ease. And the gray, cold landscape of Russia fades to the brighter country scapes of Denmark as Amin and Kasper settle into their new home. Every so often, Rasmussen will punctuate the film with clips of news broadcasts detailing certain events, which helps keep track of the events in Amin’s life and reminds the audience that yes, this was based on a real-life story.

Flee utilizes a unique approach to its documentary format, telling a heartbreaking yet timely story using the medium of animation. Ahmed and Coster-Waldau are set to lend their voices to the English translation of Flee, and I hope that draws more viewers as the film truly deserves to be seen by as many audiences as possible.

Flee premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this January and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will screen in theaters on December 3, 2021.

Flee
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Flee utilizes a unique approach to its documentary format, telling a heartbreaking yet timely story using the medium of animation. Ahmed and Coster-Waldau are set to lend their voices to the English translation of Flee, and I hope that draws more viewers as the film truly deserves to be seen by as many audiences as possible.