Animation and documentary become one and the same in Flee, the striking and memorable new film from director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who uses the format to help keep the identity of his real-life friend Amin (a pseudonym) safe as well, as well as utilizing a fresh storytelling device.

We are introduced to Amin in animated form with the director easing Amin into the interview format as he slowly starts to recount his story. They recall the first time they met each other, when Amin, a minor who arrived to start a new life in Denmark, escaping Afghanistan in 1996 after the Taliban took over.

The course of the film recounts the steps that led up to this point and to the present-day status of Amin, who tragically recalls the hostile home that he once knew, where his father was taken by the government and never seen again. Soon after he was forced to flee with his mother and siblings to Russia, where they barely had enough money to get by and dealt with the constant fear of being sent back home. As if that wasn’t tough enough, Amin realizes that he is gay and doesn’t know if he will be accepted by his family or society at large.

It’s a harrowing story of survival and tragedy, one that features some heartbreaking confessions of a world that so many of us can’t even imagine. As a documentary, the story pierces through in an even more heartbreaking manner, while also including the use of real-life footage of the cities that Amin’s story takes him through, which are used wisely with the animated footage to an interesting effect. The animated format provides a different experience that allows the tragedy to be processed through a different lens and the result is something uniquely wonderful. Memories that are more recent a presented with a more vivid concrete animation while the traumatizing events of his youth are presented in a more chaotic and abstract manner.

While there is understandably a lot of serious emotional moments, Rasmussen also embraces the spirit of the time period of the 80s including Amin’s love for music and his free-spirited approach even when he was a young child. As much as this is a story that will break your heart there is also hope to be found in the possibility of a new life forged from so much tragedy and the possibilities that come from allowing refugees to start anew.

While the adventurous and unorthodox story format is a part of what makes Flee such a unique experience, there are also aspects that work against it. Due to the understandable nature of keeping so much anonymous, there are some time jumps and attention to detail that is lost in the journey which may keep the viewer at arm’s length here and there and wanting a little more in terms of clarity.

But while watching you can only imagine what you would have done if you were presented with these same circumstances and the fact that Amin is now enjoying a successful career and life and the subject of a powerfully moving film provides the sort of hope and triumph that we can use now more than ever.

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