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Sundance 2021: Flee Review

The ethics of documentary filmmaking are hard to navigate when telling stories as sensitive and urgent as Flee. Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s documentary takes to protecting identities through animation, an often-underused art form in non-fiction storytelling. It’s innovative and compact, at only 83 minutes and runs like fiction, packed with heart-breaking nuances often found only in the movies. 

Amin, a young man from Kabul, escapes Afghanistan at great expense and spends years in hiding between various locations with his family for fear of being found and hauled back to a war-torn country. It speaks to the sheer terror of being a refugee in pursuit of a better life, peeling at all the unflinching details that come with it.

Rasmussen is a friend of the subject; whose identity remains protected through name and location changes. He threads two narratives together, the past and the present, and shows how they intersect to paint the portrait of a man whose childhood was non-existent. Amin had no choice but to be an adult before he could be a boy, exposed to prejudice and traffickers, speaking openly about the shame and embarrassment attached to his story. He so freely shares details of his youth, simultaneously navigating the danger of sexuality in a space where it is illegal and trying to escape that very threat. 

There’s a sequence that could rival any coming-of-age film, where Amin and one other boy travel in the back of a trafficker’s van. The two of them share the only things they have; music and one single necklace. It is details like this that make Rasmussen’s documentary so poignant. He doesn’t look to exploit his subject or dramatize unnecessary moments. Instead, he offers raw insight into the matters of love and sexuality that do not cease to exist due to circumstance. They are equal parts important in the telling of who Amin is now. 

In present-day Amin is navigating the same complexities of love, figuring out who he wants to be and if he’s ready to embrace this chapter fully. It shows the real makeup of Amin and how each moment speaks into his conscience to build the present. It’s a dexterously told tale and a huge feat in such limited time, with everything that traditional biopics lack. Flee is highly focused and easy to follow, careful not to overcomplicate or submit to trauma porn inviting its audience to connect inherently. 

Verdict

Rasmussen is careful not to overstep his mark as a filmmaker, and the result is a deeply compassionate look at a topic that is as apt today as any other year. Through Amin, we have the opportunity to connect in an intrinsically human way to images flippantly shared online, or videos that pepper the news. Flee provides a look behind the performative media imagery and extends an invitation for connection and understanding.

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