Amin is a successful academic on the verge of doing the whole house and marriage thing, but he’s been hiding a secret for more than 20 years, and a secret with roots that deep can threaten even the most stable life. So for the first time, Amin sits down to share his story with an old friend.
Amin and writer-director Jonas Poher Rasmussen have known each other since high school, when Amin arrived in Denmark from Afghanistan as an unaccompanied minor alone in the world, having fled the country of his birth by himself. His back story was shadowy and thus often the subject of gossip, but Amin kept his story to himself, and only now, in this animated documentary, is he choosing to unravel it for the first time, an attempt to reconcile himself with the past, perhaps, and an act of hope toward his future.
A powerful testament to the refugee experience, this animated documentary is unbound from the usual confines of story-telling and benefits from a multi-layered approach to truth and identity. Amin’s story is complicated, and it is sometimes contradictory. He’s had to hide the truth for fear of persecution, for fear of discovery, but he’s also hidden it from himself, a common coping mechanism. Thus his story is not just one man’s account of fleeing the Taliban, but an exploration of trauma and its far-reaching ramifications. And for dessert, an accidental treatise on unreliable narrators, truth distorted by perception and time. Even the animation itself serves as a filter, obscuring us further from a subject whom we never properly meet.
Shame and guilt are the salt and pepper to Amin’s narrative, seasoning wounds that are already festering quite nicely without help. We can only hope that the process has been cathartic for Amin, and grateful for the intimacy and trust implicit in this act of sharing. Rasmussen’s familiarity and friendship with his subject is a gift and a curse. Certainly his gentle coaxing elicits a fuller story that we might otherwise have heard, but Rasmussen sometimes forgets we don’t know Amin as well as he does. We might have enjoyed an introduction. And Rasmussen’s wish to grant his friend a happy ending is admirable, but as a film maker, it’s a little easy, a little pat. And yet, over the course of our 83 minutes together, we want the best for him too. Amin doesn’t owe us his story. His sharing is a gift, and if Rasmussen is tempted to wrap it up in a bow, who can blame him?
Executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Flee premiered on opening night at the Sundance Film Festival and was so well-received that NEON snapped it up, the first acquisition of Sundance 2021, before I could even post this review.