Manchester Animation Festival: Flee – Le Mancunion

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On track to become the first film to be simultaneously nominated for Best Documentary, Best Animated Film and Best International Film at the Oscars, To flee was the undisputed highlight of the Manchester Animation Festival. Directed by Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen, it tells the story of Amin, a 36-year-old refugee who fled Afghanistan as a teenager and now leads a sedentary life as an openly gay man in Denmark.

We first see Amin (or rather a 2D rendered image of him) as the man he is now, someone who still struggles with his past experiences and traumas, even though he tries to leave them behind. him for many years. All his life he was forced to tell a false story of his life, the one that the human traffickers told him. “If you don’t tell the right story, they’ll send you back to Afghanistan,” he told her when, after years of fleeing, he finally got closer to safety. But after two decades of living stable in Denmark, Amin is finally ready to tell his story as it really was, for the very first time.

Rasmussen questions Amin about the first memory he has. And so we are taken back to an 80s Kabul, a completely different place from the Afghanistan we know now. While it certainly isn’t a safe place to live, Amin has a relatively happy childhood. He grows up with his mother and three siblings, and although he feels different from the other kids around him – he enjoys wearing his sisters’ clothes, listening to western pop music and doing “girlish” things – he feels accepted.

Everything changes when the Mujahedin begin to take over the country and civil war breaks out. Amin’s older brother is forced to go to war and the life of the whole family is in danger. They have to flee, so they get a tourist visa and flee to Russia. From there, a seemingly endless struggle to escape to Europe begins. The whole family is stuck in a decrepit Moscow apartment, spending entire days watching Mexican soap operas and hoping one day they will have enough money to pay the human traffickers to bring them safely to Europe.

Amin’s story, while very personal about the documentary, serves more than self-therapy. Using animation and cutting it with occasional archive footage of relevant social and political events adds a certain layer of universality to it. The film is simple enough to describe Amin’s life from his childhood to the seemingly endless struggle for survival, with his first sexual and romantic achievements carefully and naturally traced in the story. This simplicity makes the film easy to immerse, both cinematically and emotionally.

As we learn of Amin’s heart-wrenching story, we simultaneously watch her Danish husband Kasper search for a home they could move into after their wedding. This candid portrait of a happy, loving couple contrasting with Amin’s teenage terrors shines a glimmer of hope. It reminds every refugee and every immigrant that no matter how much suffering they experience on the journey, it is possible to find oneself in a safe and welcoming society.

There is no doubt that To flee could have been made as a conventional documentary. I would say, however, that as a conventional film To flee would have been nowhere near as powerful as an animated film. The way the director plays with the form of the film, ranging from down-to-earth realistic animation to almost surreal black-and-white sequences of fear and terror, makes To flee a work of art that crosses the boundaries of documentary cinema.

As a documentary film, Rasmussen’s feature adds next to nothing to many previous efforts on the refugee crisis. The value of To flee is elsewhere. This may be just one of countless refugee stories, but its humanistic use of animation and the juxtaposition of a terrifying past and a quiet present elevates it to a work of art. cathartic and therapeutic buzzing as much with life as with traumatic mass experiences.

3.5 / 5.

Flee screened at Manchester Animation Festival and is set to hit UK cinemas in February 2022.


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