Amin’s journey from Afghanistan to Moscow to Denmark was a tragedy of bad timing
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You may think of the animated documentary as a rare and modern invention, but the first such film dates from more than a century ago, and tells the story of the Lusitania, an ocean liner sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. The form was then so new that the 12-minute short doubles as its own making-of.
More recently, 2007’s Persepolis and 2008’s Waltz with Bashir proved the power of the feature-length animated doc, picking up Oscar nominations for best animated and best foreign-language features, respectively.
Flee , the newest to use the style to tell a true story, comes from Danish documentarian Jonas Poher Rasmussen. It’s basically a series of conversations with an Afghan refugee living in Denmark and planning to marry his boyfriend. But a lifetime of repressing his sexuality, his nationality and even his family has left him emotionally scarred and unwilling to trust even those close to him.
The flight of Amin Nawabi (not his real name) from his homeland is a tragedy of bad timing. Growing up in Afghanistan in the 1980s meant dealing with the Soviet invasion. When the family fled to Moscow, the Union had just fallen, leading to bureaucratic chaos and police corruption. When they tried to take a leaky tramp steamer to Sweden, they were “rescued” by Estonian border police and returned, now penniless, to Russia. Another attempt led to the family being splintered and strewn among several nations.
It’s a heartbreaking tale, brightened somewhat by a few joyous moments, as when a fellow refugee gives Amin a necklace, or the amusing reaction of the Amin’s older brother when he comes out as gay.
There’s a line from his story that stuck with me. “Most people can’t even begin to imagine how fleeing like that affects you … how much it destroys you.” I certainly can’t. But like all great documentaries, Rasmussen’s framing of Amin’s story goes a long way to bridging that gap.
Flee opens Dec. 17 in Montreal and Toronto, with other cities to follow.
4 stars out of 5