Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Runtime: 1 hr 29 mins
Rating: M18 (Mature Content)
Released By: Lighthouse Pictures
Opening Day: 10 March 2022 (Exclusively at The Projector)
Synopsis: FLEE tells the story of Amin Nawabi as he grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years, one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon to be husband. Recounted mostly through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he tells for the first time the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.
The world isn’t quite the place it used to be. In the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the release of this Danish animated docudrama film in Singapore couldn’t be timelier.
Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the film has received international acclaim after its world premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary section. At the upcoming 94th Academy Awards, the film garnered nominations in the Best International Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature and Best Animated Feature categories, a rare feat because this is the first title to be nominated in all three major categories simultaneously.
And it is not difficult to see why. Rasmussen adopted an interesting approach to use animation and documentary filmmaking to tell a true story, a tale that needs to be told amidst whatever is happening around the world. It is the encounter of someone Rasmussen met in his rural Danish village when he was 15 years old. The someone is Amin (a pseudonym), an Afghan refugee who had supposedly fled his country after his entire family was killed. Over the decades, the two became friends and Amin finally decides to tell Rasmussen what really happened.
Then came Rasmussen’s decision to animate his friend’s story, so that Amin can keep his anonymity. The result is a heartfelt film that is essentially about a man’s tale of survival in a world that seems to be getting increasingly messed up.
Kudos to animation director Kenneth Ladekjaer , whose use of animation to tell Amin’s tale is a clever move, because it allows the filmmakers to animate flashback sequences. In a normal documentary, visualising past events would have been a challenge. But the visuals are secondary, as what’s more poignant is Amin’s voice which is the main driving force of the story. You can hear the different emotions as the film progresses. When he is sharing fond recollections, there is joy in his voice. And then you can sense fear in his voice as he narrates harrowing events from the past. Composer Uno Helmersson’s string based score moves the story along.
From the beginning of the film where you will see how Amin’s childhood in Afghanistan was bookmarked by happy memories of listening to Norwegian pop band A Ha’s “Take on Me”, to a series of traumatising events involving war and human trafficking that would eventually tear his family apart, every scene on screen is captivating and warrants your fullest attention. Real life events of the Mujahideen seizing power in Kabuland the opening of the first McDonald’s restaurant in Russiaare interspersed in Amin’s story. There also live action archival footage to lend relevancy to the documentary.
The film also deals with Amin’s struggle with own identity, when he first reacts to a movie poster featuring a buff Jean Claude Van Damme when he was a child. This aspect of the story is told with a mature and delicate touch, as you finally see how Amin is planning to marry his partner and live an open life as a gay man. Thankfully, the filmmakers did not jump at the opportunity to play up or exploit these portions of the film. Instead, they are weaved nicely into the entire narrative.
The 89 minute film does not feel overlong. It creates maximum impact with the agreeable runtime. Most importantly, it is not an unabashed political propaganda piece that hooks viewers with melodrama. At its heart is a human story that you’ll care about deeply, and will leave you thinking about the concept of what it means to have a home.
(A powerful and moving human drama that is also essential and therapeutic)
Review by John Li