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Review: Flee (2021)

Flee (2021)

Directed by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Premise: An animated docudrama about a young man whose family emigrated from Afghanistan in the 1980s and spent years in legal limbo while living in Russia and eastern Europe.

What Works: Flee is the story of Amin and his family who lived an extraordinary and difficult life. The family left Afghanistan in the late 1980s as the communist government collapsed and the Taliban seized power. It’s a particularly relevant story given what happened in Afghanistan within the past year and the movie’s references to the United States’ 1980s interventions in that country have a contemporary urgency. But regardless of the historical context, this is still an affecting story. Flee is a tale about the refugee experience and the search for a new homeland. It is in many ways an unsparing film. While nothing in Flee is explicitly violent the picture does have a brutal tone and its depictions of life in Russia and the conditions of human smuggling are awful. The filmmakers don’t try to console us with a false happy ending. Flee is confrontational; it makes us look at the humanitarian disasters that ensue from political instability. Flee is made in an interesting way. The picture combines narrative feature animation with the documentary genre. Much of the movie unfolds in a traditional animation style but the images dissolve into abstraction at key points to suggest the fogginess of memory. The film also includes well placed live action archival footage.

What Doesn’t: While Flee’s use of different animated styles is interesting and purposeful, the traditional animation is occasionally choppy in a way that’s distracting; it sometimes looks like streaming video that’s lagging. The storytelling is stop and go. Flee is only eighty-nine minutes but it feels padded. The movie intercuts the narrative with scenes of the adult Amin reflecting on his life but these moments don’t play very well. It interrupts the pacing without adding much introspection. The other family members are under characterized. A large part of Flee’s emotional appeal is in the separation of the family but we don’t know who these people are nor do they have meaningful relationships with Amin. His story is also about being a gay man from a culture that doesn’t tolerate homosexuality or even know how to talk about it. But the film doesn’t explore anything substantive about that concept.

Bottom Line: Flee is an ambitious piece of animation and a visceral refugee narrative. The film is a little scattershot and some of its themes are underdeveloped but Flee is an affecting testament of the difficulties faced by displaced people.

Episode: #889 (January 30, 2022)