‘FLEE’ Review: Pushing The Limits of Documentaries

What “Flee” manages to accomplish in a swift 90-minute runtime is mesmerizing. This animated documentary shows what can be done in the genre to stand out. Like Richard Linklater did to the drama/animation scene with “Walking Life,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen does tenfold with “Flee.”

Make no mistake, animated films are not only for kids. “Flee” is the heartbreaking story of a boy, Amin, who was forced to flee his country while also suppressing secrets. The story unfolds like any documentary; Amin is interviewed by childhood friend and director, Jonas Poher Rasmussen. But even the scenes where the two are conducting an interview are animated. The world of animation and reality are blended, with various real-life footage being sprinkled into the film when necessary such as the news on television or when we see Amin’s house at the end. It transitions from the real garden to an animated one once Amin and his fiancé walk into the frame; immediately transitioning on a dime.

It’s crazy that Jonas Poher Rasmussen and Amin happened to know each other growing up. As shown in the film, the two met on the train ride to school. What is uncovered in the film is also being told to Jonas for the first time; there is a whole world of knowledge and backstory from Amin that had to be suppressed for years. Perhaps that is what makes “Flee” so heartbreaking. Not only is the story itself heavy, but the weight on the shoulders of Amin would surely make almost anyone give up.

(L) Jonas Poher Rasmussen; (R) Amin; in “Flee.” Photo courtesy of NEON.

The animation style of “Flee” is like a beautiful flipbook. Perhaps it takes a few minutes to get used to, but its simplistic nature is appealing. Little details such as it becoming more rugged and filled with faceless people when Amin is recounting something he was either a.) not present for, or b.) was running in a hurry. It’s a great touch to make the viewer feel how frantic Amin must have felt in those moments.

Amin in “Flee.” Photo courtesy of NEON.

Some documentaries pull their punches; looking at you, “The Jesus Music.” However, “Flee” should be applauded for its bravery. Amin is brutally honest in his storytelling, and the reluctance to tell his story is so genuine. While Amin gets a happy ending in “Flee,” don’t go in expecting the most uplifting story. It’s a brave recounting of a tumultuous time for Amin, and it is tragic to watch. But, the pathos of the story is the biggest strength and makes “Flee” not only the best documentary of the year but one of the best films of the year.

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