Flee: Oscar-tipped portrait of an Afghan refugee’s life

Review: Animated documentary tells story of long trek from Afghanistan to Denmark

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Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Cert: Club
Genre: Animation
Starring: Daniel Karimyar, Fardin Mijdzadeh, Milad Eskandari, Belal Faiz
Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins

The bookies’ favourite to take home Oscars in both Best Documentary and Best Animation categories arrives with name executive producers (Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and European Film Awards attached. It is the story of a refugee. Amin, a previously reticent man who is about to get married, sits down with the film’s director and relates details from his life, including his family’s flight from Afghanistan and the gruelling events he faced before arriving in Denmark as a teenager.

The filmmaker and the pseudonymous subject have known each other for many years; the animation works to protect Amin’s identity and allows for the dramatisation of events he is reluctant to speak of.

Amin, who first realised he was gay at the age of five (with a little help from Jean Claude van Damme posters), is introduced as a kid listening to A-ha’s Take on Me on the streets of Kabul, wearing one of his sister’s hand-me-down dresses. His family hastily leave the country when the Islamist mujahideen take power in the early 1990s, landing in the lawless, economic armageddon of post-Soviet Moscow.

There are several failed attempts to find a stable existence, and several harrowing journeys, including a cramped shipping container bound for Sweden, a night march through a forest in which an elderly woman falls behind, and a treacherous ride in a small boat on the Baltic. That trip sees the passengers rescued by a cruise ship, imprisoned in Estonia, and deported back to Russia.

Amin is currently a successful academic in a loving relationship with his partner Kaspar, and yet the lies he was forced to tell while seeking asylum, his various estrangements from his family, and the use of his history against him by an abusive boyfriend, have all taken a toll.

There are obvious parallels between Rasmussen’s film and such similarly constructed animations as Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir and Keith Maitland’s Tower, although Flee’s rugged lines are never as polished as anything found in either of those films. The sense of catharsis and the heartfelt voiceover, however, offset the roughhewn aesthetics.