January 24, 2022

Review: “Flee” is an Extremely Unique Refugee Doc

“I’m glad you’re finally ready to tell this story.”

The first semester of my time at college, I took a film history course about Experimental Documentaries, and one of the takeaways from that class is that documentaries can be presented in any form. They are art, like any other film, and unorthodox documentaries can be as effective, if not even more impactful, than traditional documentaries.

Flee is one of the most unique documentaries I’ve ever seen. Beautifully animated using a fresh variety of styles, it is the story of Amin Nawabi, a man who had to leave his home in Afghanistan, and charts his path to eventual safety in Denmark. Scenes of Nawabi telling his story are intercut with vivid and surreal pictures of his home, including live-action footage of the world events happening at the time. It paints a complete picture, all while focusing on what Nawabi and his family endured.

Flee initially intrigued me, not only because of the extremely positive buzz it was gaining from early screenings, but because it showcases a piece of history that I was not as familiar with. We’ve heard a lot about Afghanistan in the news recently, but this period (around the time I was born) is, pardon the term, foreign to me. It was especially interesting to see it through the eyes of a complete stranger, albeit one whose word I trust absolutely. That’s the effect Flee has.

The animation aspect is advantageous, primarily because the film is able to immerse you in the environment in ways that a traditional documentary would be unable to do. Due to the nature of Nawabi’s upbringing, there is not much visual documentation of the time in his life he’s telling us about, and so the straightforward documentary format would not really work for the story that Flee wants to tell. I believe the right choice was made in this regard.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though the narrative is certainly harrowing. There are bits that contrast utter hopelessness with moments of warmth and levity (especially in scenes featuring Nawabi’s brother), and it only goes to show that Flee is made with genuine passion and heart, as Nawabi looks back on not only the traumatic elements of his past, but the bright spots as well. Life is barely perfect, but we should count ourselves lucky for what we do have — somewhere, there are people living in fear just because of who they are. Flee does well to highlight this very fact.

Several impressive and stylistic choices are part of what make Flee a fascinating watch. Animated with a low frame rate (one of many brilliant creative choices that make the visuals stand out), this is an emotionally impactful story that I’m glad we are privileged enough to see, and enjoy, as a form of entertainment. 
[Grade: A+]

Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen

Writers: Jonas Poher Rasmussen and Amin Nawabi

Rated: PG-13 for thematic content, disturbing images and strong language

Available: Theaters
Fun Fact: Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau served as producers on Flee.

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