Flee is the latest hybrid of both documentary and animation, giving it a similarity to the 2008 film Waltz with Bashir. They both involve storytelling of factual narratives through the medium of animation that stirs up the animation of audiences as the subjects recollect their experiences. In the case of Flee, the animation not only is used for cinematic purposes but facilitates the subject’s insistence for confidentiality as he does not want his identity to be revealed due to the impending shadow of authorities.
Flee tells the harrowing story of Amin, a successful academic who harbours a dark secret from his past that still haunts him. Not only does it affect him and his husband-to-be psychologically, but it also has the potential to shatter the foundation of the life that he has built up. Through the medium of narration, he recounts his past to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen – a close friend and high school classmate. The story involves Amin being a child refugee from Afghanistan and it details various escapes and revelations that have shaped Amin into the man he is today.
On a personal note, any film that references the actor Jean-Claude Van Damme gets an extra point from yours truly. So when it occurs in Flee as a point in characterisation as a Bloodsport film poster, the film has this critic’s attention. But to get back on a serious note, the animation of the film is vivid in the sense that it captures the mindset of Amin. The roughness and blurred look of the time where we see him as a child; the blurred, shadowy look during times of great tragedy reflecting the disbelief that Amin has in recollecting said moments and the substantial moments in his later age which is executed with more striking clarity – Rasmussen has done a fantastic job in immersing the audience into the mindset of its troubled lead character.
But Rasmussen never forgets that the film is a documentary as he provides substantial historical context that lays out a solid foundation that Amin’s story is factual; as well as never diminishing the voice of Amin as he provides his perspective on his recollections in opposition to what actually happened. The re-enactment of the hope the refugees had when they witnessed the sight of a shipping boat is heartbreaking in its sparseness in its visuals, the tenderness in the musical score and especially through the tearful and disbelieving tone from Amin’s narration.
Of course, the film is not always about a journey of survival but it is also a coming-of-age story; a tale of self-discovery. The reaction of Amin’s foster family over his sexual orientation is both suspenseful and heartwarming and it also highlights the importance of home being a state of mind rather than an actual dwelling. And the depiction of the sacrifices that Amin’s real family make in the earlier part of the film is shown through toil that reverberates through the story.
That is not to say that the film is not without levity as there are many amusing moments that come from Amin’s discovery as a person. Alongside the Jean-Claude Van Damme moment being a key moment in Amin’s sexual discovery, Amin’s observations on first love with a fellow refugee brings amusement as well.
Overall, Flee is a gripping story of survival, an emotionally satisfying tale of past traumas and self-acceptance and a beautiful piece of animation. Highly recommended.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Flee is now showing in Australian and NZ cinemas now, courtesy of Madman Films.