Release Date – 11th February 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 29 minutes, Director – Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Animated documentary following Amin Nawabi as he recounts his childhood in 80s and 90s Afghanistan before finding refuge in Denmark many years later.
“Most people can’t begin to understand how fleeing like that effects you” states Amin Nawabi after having recounted much of his tale from growing up in 80s and 90s Afghanistan, eventually finding refuge in Denmark; after a harsh time in post-Soviet Russia. His words are true, as an audience throughout the course of Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s documentary we witness much of his story as its translated into an animated form. Bringing to life Nawabi’s words and placing us in the world that his words are helping to form. It brings a more visual sense to the piece, and thanks to a handful of different styles helps to get more across and form more of a connection with the viewer.
While holding a short run-time – at just under 90 minutes – Flee is certainly filled with plenty of detail, outside of the animation. It comes in Nawabi’s words as his recounts of events and tragedy in his life, simply to gain freedom. Given freedom by the director and, more clearly, his friend to tell his story as it comes to him. It’s made clear when moments are being slightly filled in, and generally where we are; for example whether we’re looking at the interview or the unfolding story of Amin’s life, thanks to a handful of slightly different animation styles. For example, a number of the darker moments of fighting for safety and survival are portrayed with what feels like slightly scratchier animation, an almost hand-drawn style, to get across a harsher tone. It works and certainly has an effect, bringing the audience further into the story as the world feels even more detailed beyond what we’re already being told. Even by seeing animated interpretations of the interview setup, where Amin occasionally lies down almost like a therapy session, the film could be seen as the events playing out in his mind, adding to the personal and emotional core of the piece.
Much of the emotional engagement that we have with the film appears to come from the animation which helps to lift up and strengthen so many moments. As we get a look into the world that is being described, and also means that there’s more time to focus on the story instead of hearing descriptions of surroundings and areas. It creates a closer bond with Amin, almost alike to that which he appears to have with Rasmussen. Allowing for a finer sense of flow to his words and an overall stripped back nature to the way in which they speak. The film as a whole, in fact, has the feeling of something quite stripped back, and yet still holding plenty of details within the animation. All particularly helping when it comes to the way he initially interacts with a more open world; the thoughts that come to mind in regards to living in Denmark and visiting America.
There’s thoughtfulness at each turn and stage of the life story, and always a thought of the subject as a person, not just his story. Learning about and understanding his sexuality in a time and country where homosexuality is largely unacknowledged, and, if it is seen, simply deemed as wrong and something to be met with severe consequences. Such moments manage to break through well and fit naturally into Amin’s story. And while the film’s focus is still very much on the physical journeys that he takes in increasingly desperate search for safety and as he later puts it “a life” there’s still time and space to occasionally get glimpses into his life in Denmark and the contrast that it has to the confinement, uncertainty, isolation and fear he felt before. It’s again further show in the animation styles and the way in which they pair up with what Amin is saying. Creating a story that is both visually and more emotionally engaging and allows us to follow what the subject is saying with more understanding and connection. All in an attempt to help us understand the effect that fleeing has had on him. While we might not be able to fully do so, Flee certainly does a good job of getting us some of the way there, particularly on a level of personal change and emotion.
Flee’s use of animation helps us to form a better sense of understanding when it comes to the personal story of its subject. By varying styles we get put into the world and the emotional effects that it creates, and indeed created. Focusing not just on the journeys themselves, but the person (and people) who went through them.