“Flee” is a rarity, an animated documentary. A mix of personal and modern world history, it is a heartfelt look at the true, hidden story of the harrowing life journey of a gay refugee from Afghanistan.
The bedrock of this boundary-pushing doc are twenty, taped conversations Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen had with his childhood friend Amin (a pseudonym). As an adult, Amin is about to marry his partner Kasper when he sits down to talk to Rasmussen about how his life brought him to this moment.
He recounts how his father disappeared and his brother was conscripted to join the army in 1979 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. As a boy, he fled his war-torn country with his mother and siblings, to find a new, safe life. They landed in Russia on a tourist visa just after the Soviet Union had fallen, leaving the country corrupt and dangerous.
Time passes. As the Russian police track him as an undocumented resident, he embarks on the most dangerous journey yet. With the help of an older brother in Sweden, Amin puts himself in the hands of human traffickers for a traumatic, uncertain journey to Copenhagen.
Except for a few minutes here and there of archival news footage, “Flee” uses animation to tell the story but this ain’t the “Looney Tunes.” Rasmussen used the animation to protect Amin’s identity, but like other serious-minded animated films like “Persepolis” and “Waltz with Bashir,” the impressionistic presentation enhances the telling of the tale. The styles of Rasmussen’s animation change to reflect and effectively bring the various stages of Amin’s journey to vivid life. It is suspenseful, heartbreaking and often poetic.
But it is Amin’s heartfelt, urgent storytelling and Rasmussen’s prodding that make the story of resilience and survival so riveting. From the grueling trek to a new land to guilelessly seeking out a cure for his homosexuality in Denmark, “Flee” proves itself as a unique work of art based on a true, traumatic and far too common refugee experience.