Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s ‘Flee’ Review: A poignant tale of a young Afghan refugee accepting his past

Coming to terms with oneself, constant search for home and relieving oneself from the burden of a traumatising past are the three pillars of the documentary film Flee. The story of an Afghan refugee, poignantly portrayed by director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, is told using animation to enable the survivor to open up without revealing his identity.

The multiple award-winning film which includes the Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Festival has been garnering attention in many other film festivals as well like Oscars and Cannes. Rasmussen’s back and forth narrative style makes the audience a part of the protagonist Amin Nawabi’s journey (it is not his real name).

Revealing the details of the suffering faced by a little boy who has to leave his home forever and struggle each day for a better future without actually identifying his real identity adds to the universality of the painful refugee crisis. Whatever the fate of a survivor is, displacement and uncertainty are a shared pain for them.

The story is told using animation with a few live-action clips and news broadcasts, acting as the reminder of the harsh reality of the incident. The documentary explores different stages of the protagonist’s life. The grown-up young Amin who was soon to marry his boyfriend Kasper is seen opening up about his truth in front of his long-time friend Rasmussen. As the movie progresses, we learn that the director knew Amin when they were both teens in Denmark. He was aware that the young immigrant had fled his home country, but was not aware of the difficulties and circumstances that made Amin fend for himself all alone.

We also see him recalling how he liked his sisters’ dresses from a young age. He felt he was different and was attracted to men, without actually understanding completely about sexual orientation. He also feared losing his family by disclosing that he is gay as back in Afghanistan, this subject would be a source of immense tension. Rasmussen’s master interview skills unraveled the story in the most comfortable manner. 

The style of presenting a documentary using hand-drawn animation, vivid flashbacks, and conversational voice overs helped the filmmaker in his immersive storytelling.  The English version of this 90-minute animated documentary has been voiced by popular British-Pakistani actor and rapper, Riz Ahmed. Along with Ahmed, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (known for his role Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones) had been tapped as lead actor and executive producer for the English dubbed adaptation of Flee.

The on-screen colour palate interestingly presented a bright happy picture of the young Amin in Afghanistan. Further, when he honestly confessed that one day his father was taken away only to never return back and later the scenes of the entire family escaping from the country after the mujahedeen took control of the country, has been drawn using heavy lined sketches depicting  an environment of fear.

The detailed account of how Amin and his family flew from Kabul to Moscow, stayed there, harassed by corrupt officials for their visa status, sought help from the traffickers and so on; laid bare the dark experiences of his past. The claustrophobic image of the sisters being sneaked inside the cargo trailer was one of the most harrowing experiences.

Later the officials nabbing the boys and snatching their watch before letting them go made them understand how unsafe they were. Also, he witnessed the officials taking advantage of another refugee girl and while narrating this he regretted his inability to help her out.  Ultimately, it was decided that Amin would travel alone to Denmark as they had very little money to pay the traffickers.

Amin gained asylum in the country by narrating (based on the trafficker’s instructions to ensure that he is not sent back) that he is an orphaned, teen refugee who arrived at Copenhagen airport after escaping from Afghanistan all alone.

All these grim memories are very sensitively presented with altering images of bright and grey. The documentary is the most authentic presentation of a person’s story of suffering, resilience, survival and the ultimate catharsis that he achieves by making peace with the past. The nuanced language of the filmmaking helped the viewers connect with Amin’s tale. Rasmussen has told his friend’s story with utter sensitivity and did perfect justice to it.

Flee, the animated docudrama is now available on OTT platform ZEE5.