London Film Festival 2021: Flee Review

So we’ve now come to the final film I saw at this year’s London Film Festival and, like how I started the festival with animation, I thought I’d end the festival with animation. After looking through the programme, this film stood out to me as I think animation can be a great medium for documentaries. Sometimes it can work really well like with Waltz With Bashir, sometimes the results can be a bit more mixed, like with My Favourite War, which I reviewed as part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. I think that Flee is one of the cases where animation works with the medium of the documentary.

The film follows Amin, a refugee from Afghanistan currently living in Copenhagen, with the film taking the form of a series of interviews between him and director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, on the verge of Amin marrying his husband. Over the course of the film we see the difficulties Amin had living in Afghanistan, the feelings of fear he had when living in Russia trying to get to relatives in Sweden, the horrors he experienced when human traffickers try to get him to Sweden and his experiences with his partner in Copenhagen and the domestic issues they have. Like with other films I watched at this year’s festival, this is not a particularly easy film to watch. It does not shy away from the difficulties and state of fear Amin and his family lived in, both in Afghanistan and in Russia, and, whilst there is an element of hope throughout the film, there is always underlying tension over what is going to happen to Amin’s family. The film also shows the conditions that refugees are forced to live in, including constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of arrest and the horrific conditions of refugee camps and accommodation they have to stay in before their claims of asylum can be made. I also like that there’s plenty of discussion of Amin’s current life. It shows how Amin is not defined solely by being a refugee and the issues he experienced, it fully develops him and provides a candid look at his life, showing the smaller, domestic issues he has, working well to demonstrate his life now. There are also some good moments looking at Amin’s sexuality, the feelings of self-loathing he experiences and the fear over being exposed as being gay during the civil war of the 90s and this also gives some insight into the experience of people in Afghanistan after the Soviet-Afghan war.

What works really well about the film is how it uses the medium of animation to its advantage. By being animated, it allows the film to fully present us with a depiction of what Amin’s life would have been like, focusing on his words as a base for the animation style and background design and helping us to see the events of the film in the way that Amin would have seen it. The animation has this slightly choppy quality that works in creating the atmosphere of the film and, when the animation goes more experimental, such as when peoples faces disappear during more tense scenes and the use of a more charcoal, black and white design during the more horrific moments in the film, it does add to the emotional weight of the film. Good use is also made of archival footage in key points to help give the audience a basis for the design of the film and the film knows when to use animation and when to use news footage to create the most powerful impression of the world.

Overall, I found Flee to be a powerful, moving depiction of the life of a refugee that takes full advantage of animation to tell Amin’s story. The way animation is used here demonstrates the power of the medium in the documentary format, helping the audience to experience the world the way Amin would have done, creating a tense and disturbing, but also moving and hopeful film and this was one of the highlights of this years festival for me.

My Rating: 5/5

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