Flees Free

Flugt (Flee, Jonas Poher Rasmussen, 2021)

Whilst animation tends to make us think of Disney, there’s a whole world of adult animation such as Persepholis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, 2007) and Waltz with Bashir (Aru Folman, 2008) from the documentary genre. Flee is an autobiographical account of “Amin Nawabi” confessing his life history to a friend (presumably Poher Ramussen) in Denmark and New York.

Amin had arrived as a refugee in Denmark and claimed his family had been murdered or jailed in Afghanistan, but the truth had been a little more complicated. He had been born in a troubled Afghanistan, invaded by the Soviets, and his father had been arrested and gone missing, presumed dead. As the country disintegrates into civil war, Amin and his brother face conscription into the army or death at the hands of various militants, so the family decides to flee the country. First they make it to Moscow, then attempt to make it to Sweden. His two sisters are the first to make the journey, then Amin, one of his brothers and their mother try to follow. The horrors of trafficking are haunting; of course, he will survive, but you’re not clear who else will.

The added complication is that Amin is gay – something unspeakable in Afghanistan and apparently they don’t even have a word for it. His family may disown him. In something like the present day, Amin is engaged and his husband to be is looking for rural retreats to live in, whilst Amin is unwilling to share his past and driven by a potential post doc. He needs some kind of catharsis for his past.

The animation is rather lo fi – impressive back drops, but the figures move somewhat like a Flash animation, with the online. This does not stray into the Disney caricature, nor the Lord of the Rings and A Scanner Darkly Rotoscoping. It does feel a little strobed, and you never quite notice it. Into the animation comes news and archive footage, filling in the historical background we’ve forgotten or never knew. This, aside from New York, is largely grainy, usually dated and fits alongside with no disjunction.

The film is horrifying – obviously timely with the crisis in the English Channel and yet another collapse of Afghanistan, as well as reminding us how the country has been damaged by three superpowers. At the same time, there something utterly endearing about Amin’s laugh.

Among one of the longest list of coproduction companies and producers I’ve yet to see (Arte, CNC, Creative Europe, Danish Film Institute, Final Cut for Real, Fritt Ord, Left Handed Films, Movistar Plus, Norwegian Film Institute, RYOT Films, Sun Creature Studio, SVT, Swedish Film Institute, Vice Studios), you’ll note the name Riz Ahmed. I first saw him in Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010), but he gained more prominence in Rogue One (Gareth Edwards, 2016) and Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2020) and is the force behind Left Handed Films. Mogul Mowgli (Bassam Tariq, 2020) is another project, as was Sound of Metal. A version of the film narrated by him was announced, but this version was misleadingly described as dubbed – but the Dari Persian, Russian, Danish and even English is subtitled.

Seek this out when you can.

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