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Disaster Gay

Final Cut for Real/Neon

Flee (2021)

A true story about an Afghan refugee who spent years hiding out in Russia before making it to Denmark to resume some semblance of normal life, “Flee” joins the recent chorus of films covering the same topic, including “Limbo,” “I Carry You With Me,” “El cuartito,” “Chal Mera Putt,” fellow TIFF entry “Snakehead” etc. What makes Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s film stand out is that it’s entirely animated, at times seemingly drawn directly over documentary-style interviews while other times illustrating flashbacks told during these sessions. It’s also perhaps the timeliest of the batch, given recent events in Afghanistan.

Amin Nawabi (whose name may have been fictionalized to protect his identity), had a predilection for wearing his sister’s dresses while growing up in Kabul – the film has barely begun, and it’s already raising red flags. Much like “I Carry You With Me,” “Flee” employs this cross-dressing anecdote as a cultural signpost to disparage its protagonist’s homeland as unenlightened. Fortunately, Amin was apparently unscathed.

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, U.S.-backed mujahideen began systematically eliminating “nonbelievers.” Amin’s father was arrested, and vanished three months later. On tourist visas, Amin, his brother and their mother arrived in Russia and awaited funds from their uncle to pay human smugglers. Thanks to the corruption of Russian authorities, they managed to bribe their away out of deportation back to Afghanistan after their visas expired. Making it to Europe was another ordeal entirely. After being intercepted by the Estonian border police, they were sent back to Russia. All of this is riveting, of course.

But, Mr. Rasmussen gives almost equal weight to Amin’s first-world problems. A big deal is made of Amin’s affinity for ’80s meathead action stars. After reuniting with siblings in Sweden, he found acceptance when his older brother unexpectedly dropped him off at a gay club. Then in present day, Amin is torn between life in the countryside cottage with his partner Kasper and a research opportunity at Princeton. Of course one expects Amin to suffer the effects of some sort of PTSD after the ordeal he’s been through, but “Flee” has its priorities mixed up to the point that, for example, the film feels like a reality show when it accompanies the couple house-hunting. Amin’s present-day dilemmas are so trivial that it’s unconscionable Mr. Rasmussen would choose to conflate them with his harrowing plight as a refugee.


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