Flee is an astonishing achievement. Director and co-writer, Jonas Poher Rasmussen, along with Amin, the person whose actual life story is central to this movie, have created a movie experience that is riveting. It is a combination of a feature documentary and an animated (rotoscoped) movie. Before you think that Rasmussen has deliberately manipulated the documentary as an animated movie purely as a novelty for its own sake, you need to consider that the movie is based on a true story, as many films are, but that the incredible nature of Amin’s story means that the details of his and his family’s appearance and the locations in which the story happened and continues to happen are disguised specifically by the decision to animate the movie.
The animation is a camouflage, similar to filming standard documentary interviews by blocking people’s faces or disguising their voices through sound distortion to protect the people involved. If Amin and his family were filmed as live-action subjects for the documentary, or any live action locations were shown that could reveal his identity and location, then jail and/or deportation could still be the outcome for Amin, even though his story begins when he is a child in Afghanistan and continues to the present day from his perspective as an adult in Sweden.
Amin’s revelations begin as he tells the story to the documentary’s filmmaker of how he travelled from Afghanistan to safety in Sweden over the course of one month. He returns through his memories to being a child in Kabul and the family life he lived until the invasion by the Russians, the resistance to the Russians by the Mujahideen guerrilla groups operating in Afghanistan, and the emergence of the ultraconservative political and religious Taliban following the withdrawal of Russian troops. Life changed and never returned to how it had been in Kabul.
Amin recounts his family’s escape from Afghanistan; isolation camps; brutal and dishonest people-smugglers; cruel and corrupt Russian police; family members disappearing and never being seen again after they are arrested by police; hiding in remote locations to avoid detection because they did not have the required documentation; the separation of children from parents and from each other; a compulsion to watch Mexican soap operas dubbed in Russian and the need to lie and deceive as a fundamental way of staying alive and possibly gaining refugee status in Sweden. During the interviews with the filmmakers, Amin also deals with his identity as a gay man and the direct effect his refugee experiences are having on his relationship with his partner, Jasper.
All of this may seem bearable when described in words, but the depiction of Amin’s struggle against discrimination, the struggle for survival, self-preservation and the barriers to developing trust with people are brought to a bleak focus throughout the movie. The mainstay of the movie is rotoscoped animation with insertions of actual televised stories showing the untenable situation in Afghanistan and Russia during Amin’s life of turmoil.
Official Trailer Flee
Photo stills, poster & official trailer © 2022 NEON
If you’re not certain about the rotoscoped animated style of the documentary, take a look at the trailer to give you a sense of whether it’s a style that you find comfortable to watch. The scenes involving police brutalising families in Russia and Afghanistan and the terror of people-smugglers are made more intense by the stark animation and underscore the savagery of Amin’s plight. He reflects that he never felt safe even when he was in a secure place.
While pursuing freedom among conditions and situations that are unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t experienced them, Amin and his partner Jasper must deal with the emotional disruption to their relationship due to Amin’s uncertainty and insecurities around his declaration that he is a refugee and the possibility that his background and lies regarding his family might be revealed to the authorities resulting in his removal from Sweden and shattering his life. His existence remains unstable. This deep-seated fear comes from his constant belief that people can’t be trusted. He must continue to say that his family—his entire family—was killed. To save his family, Amin must eradicate his family’s existence. If he gets in contact with family and it’s discovered by authorities, he will be deported or imprisoned.
You couldn’t realise the full dread of Amin's horrendous story if you didn’t know the reality of what happened as told by Amin and Rasmussen. I had to keep remembering that this is not a fictionalised version of Amin’s story; this was and continues to be his lived experience.
Flee is an incredible life story told in an impressive, distinctive style.
Official Poster Flee
Current Release: In Cinemas Now (February 2022)
Languages: Danish, Russian, Dari, English, Swedish, Norwegian with subtitles
FILM EXTRAS: ROTOSCOPING
Rotoscope animation describes the process of creating animated sequences by tracing over live-action footage frame by frame.
LINK: An Introduction to Rotoscoping (Adobe)
A Realistic Animated War Movie
”Movies have long presented the ill effects war has on communities, but animated war movies shatter expectations. They linger between reality and imagination but play on emotional vulnerabilities while maintaining a subtle level of detachment. Here (is one) animated war movie that has changed the perception of war films, animation and war itself.”
Waltz with Bashir (2008)
The film is a documentary that unfolds the repressed memories of its director, Ari Folman, who served in the Israeli Army during the 1982 Lebanon War. Even though Folman does not consider the Lebanese or Palestinian perspective, the film remains a harrowing journey from the anguishes of war to absolute horror.
Israel invaded Lebanon to fight the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and help establish a new order under the Lebanese Christian Phalangists. Folman’s spectacular visual journey builds up to the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which turns into disturbingly real footage. The film almost wrestles with Israel’s culpability.
Following the assassination of Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel, with then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon claiming there were thousands of terrorists in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, Israeli soldiers sealed off Sabra and Shatila, and Phalangists militiamen entered the camps.
“In the ensuing three-day rampage, the militia, linked to the Maronite Christian Phalange Party, raped, killed and dismembered at least 800 civilians, while Israeli flares illuminated the camps’ narrow and darkened alleyways. Nearly all of the dead were women, children and elderly men,” Seth Anziska wrote at The New York Times. Sources report the casualties as high as three thousand.
Today, Sabra and Shatila are cramped and overcrowded, with scarce electricity and a contaminated water supply. American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) helps fund organizations that provide pre-school programs, vocational training and psychological assistance to Sabra and Shatila refugees. The prospect of refugees returning to Palestine remains bleak.”
Taken from 3-realistic-animated-war-movies by Emma Uk, The Borgen Project, September 7, 2019
Rotoscoped Feature Films
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
In the near future, as America virtually loses the war on drugs, Robert Arctor, a narcotics cop in Orange County, California, becomes an addict when he goes undercover. He is meets Donna, a dealer, to ferret out her supplier.
At the same time, he receives orders to spy on his housemates, one of whom is suspected of being Donna's biggest customer.
Loving Vincent (2017)
The first painting animation feature film
A man visits the last hometown of Vincent Van Gogh, to deliver his final letter. Taking place in 1890 France, the man investigates what might have taken place in the last days of the painter.
Painting animation is a painstaking, laborious, detailed technique that required painting 66,690 frames of oil paintings that were then filmed.
Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings (1978)
An animated film by Ralph Bakshi presents the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien's renowned fantasy tale.