Festivals, Reviews

Sundance 2021: ‘Flee’—A Beautiful Documentary Dealing with a Man’s Journey to Freedom and Identity

It starts with Amin finally telling his story to his filmmaker friend, the documentary’s director, under the condition that his name and the places mentioned are changed to conceal his identity. This led to the choice of telling this story through animation, with some mix of archival footage. Rasmussen and Amin knew each other when they were teens, the former aware that his friend was a refugee but not really knowing how he got to Denmark. This is Amin’s story.

Amin takes us on a journey, starting with Soviet-influenced Afghanistan in the 80s accompanied by the music of the era. With the war raging on and his father missing, Amin, his mother, and his siblings relocate to escape conscription in the army and violence from the Mujahideen. He stays in Russia for a few years in a limbo, waiting to be smuggled to Sweden to his estranged older brother before ultimately landing in Denmark. Today, Amin is in a loving relationship with his long-time boyfriend Kasper, and is a renowned academic with an offer from Princeton. He credits his success to his struggles as a refugee, something he believes made him strive and work hard.

This experience also affected how Amin functions in his relationships and who he became. His identity as a gay man from Afghanistan is the very core of the story. From the beginning, he positions himself as someone who is carefree; the film opens with a story of him in Kabul as a child, roaming the streets in his older sister’s nightgown jamming to a-Ha’s “Take on Me.” The film also tackles the idea of home, with his constant moving and, sometimes, running away. Amin never knew what home was until he met Kasper. Previously, he had to lie about his identity to survive and guarded his secret for a long time. With an impending marriage, he knew he had to tell his story, finally letting out a truth that not even his fiancé knew. 

Flee is a beautifully crafted documentary that is pure and true to heart. Rasmussen is given a powerful story to tell, and with his direction, it was executed well. He conducted his interview with Amin with much care. He interviews him differently than most documentary filmmakers, showing Amin laying down, eyes closed. The animation gave so much freedom to how Amin’s story is told visually, and it was edited masterfully to go along with the archival footage to set the tone of the events.

Absorbing in every turn, Flee also has the recipe for a coming-of-age story. As Amin tackles his attraction to men, one can’t help but connect with him. There were certain parts in the film where young Amin is winked at by the beautiful men he sees on his television screen. One memorable scene for me was when his older brother took him to a gay bar after just coming out. It was one of the lighter moments in the film that got me very emotional; just seeing Amin live his life after so many years of struggle.

This film is not the first to approach this kind of documentary filmmaking, but it does leave a unique imprint and, most importantly, gives freedom to Amin. His hardships, experienced by many, resonated with me and surely many others. This film is a touching retelling of one man’s journey to a true home which he found after years of austerity. Definitely one of my favorites this year.

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