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#TIFF21 Review: Flee (TIFF Docs)

September 9, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

In his unconventional but excellent new documentary Flee, Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen interviews his high school friend Amin Nawabi, an Afghan refugee who reveals for the first time the harrowing story of how he escaped Afghanistan as a child and fled to Europe. The twist is that these interviews, and the domestic scenes around them, are all animated.

This is an artistic choice that not only helps to protect the identity of Amin, which is not his real name, but also makes his story come alive in a really unique way. Rasmussen admits that he never knew the full story of how his friend got to Denmark, with a rumour going around in high school that he walked all the way from Afghanistan, and the filmmaker gently probes him to reveal the truth. This makes Amin into a bit of an unreliable narrator, for obvious safety reasons, and leads to some twists in the true story.

A successful academic now in his thirties, Flee finds Amin looking back as he prepares to marry his longtime boyfriend Kasper. Because the film is animated, Rasmussen is able to seamlessly transition into hand-drawn flashbacks to Amin’s childhood, powerfully illustrating his stories of escaping the Mujahideen in Kabul and fleeing to Moscow a year after the fall of the Soviet Union, where his family lived in fear of the police and were constantly being asked to show their papers.

The film tells a gripping refugee story, showing the lengths Amin went to and the sacrifices that he made to eventually find freedom, including disturbing accounts of human trafficking. But it’s equally impactful when exploring how this intersects with his experience as a gay man, as Amin reflects on growing up as a more effeminate boy in a society that enforced strict gender roles. The film culminates with an incredibly moving coming out story that is poignantly brought to life through the animation.

The film itself is visually interesting, with the interviews appearing to be drawn over actual footage through rotoscoping, and the flashbacks having a vivid, illustrative drawing style to them. Rasmussen also skillfully mixes in some bits of live action archival footage, which nicely compliments the animated main sections. The result is a unique piece of documentary filmmaking, that shows how animation can be used to tell grounded, human stories.

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 14th – 4:00 PM at Cinesphere IMAX Theatre

Tuesday, September 14th – 9:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

Friday, September 17th – 3:00 PM at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox (Canada)

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9th to 18th.

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