Produced by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Riz Ahmed, and based on a true story, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “To run awayFollow in the footsteps of Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” to present a unique story of refugees from the Middle East on screen in the form of an animated documentary. “Running away” takes place through Amin’s Hybrid Interview Therapy session. He recounts the series of events that led his family to flee to Europe at the start of the 1978 civil war in Afghanistan. Now living in Copenhagen, estranged from his family, Amin is about to marry his partner Jasper, but a few anxieties leave him reluctant: his faltering immigrant status, his acceptance into the Princeton postdoctoral program, and most importantly, his haunting childhood memories. .
Animation in “Flee” is as much a practical choice as it is an aesthetic one. Like the pseudonyms Rasmussen gives to these characters, the animation allows Anim, living illegally in Sweden, to tell his unthinkable story. For example, the current footage – his impending marriage to his partner and the interview sessions – as well as his vivid childhood memories in Afghanistan and Russia, use conventional 2D animation, while the gruesome memories – enduring him the dangers of human trafficking – as well as memories that are not his own, the kidnapping of his father, are drawn in abstract terms. The two narrative tracks are massaged by Amin recalling his gay sexual awakening, told by needle drops A-Ha and scorching references to Jean-Claude Van Damme.
As a final element, bringing us back to the conventional documentary form, Rasmussen also uses historical images of the Afghan Civil War and the fall of Communism in Russia. The blended visuals transcend the time constraints of documentary storytelling to translate Amin’s myth and memory into his fractured but forged current identity.
While Rasmussen often taps into this hybrid form for an ingenious and intimate effect, the potential to fully delve into Amin’s psychological fears through the same abstract representation seems untapped. In other words, if we can get into his mind, then why not totally overwhelm ourselves rather than feeling distant? That’s probably a small problem, however, in a story as powerful as Amin’s, but a criticism nonetheless. Rasmussen’s “Flee” covers his difficult subjects – the immigrant-refugee experience, a sexual awakening and a long-term romantic engagement – in sometimes too long strides. But his ambition is as ambitious as it is magnificent. The images of “Flee” will remain etched in the mind long after they leave the screen, even if their departure leaves us lost.