LFF 2021 Review: Flee

Coming into LFF off the back of a successful festival run, including rave reviews out of Sundance and Cannes, Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee is getting talked up for potentially making a bit of history where in next year’s Oscars, it could be in contention in not just Best Documentary and Best International Feature (something the remarkable Collective managed this past year) but also in Best Animated Feature, a trifecta of nominations you could barely see coming. The lovely thing to report is that Flee is absolutely deserving of this talk.

Telling the at turns heartwarming, harrowing but always incredibly human story of Amin, an Afghan national who found a home in Denmark after his family fled both Afghanistan and then Russia, Flee uses varying animation styles, with the odd bit of live-action archive footage for context, to tell its tale, the present day footage carrying a more realist look, his earlier days having a vibrancy to them but the sections where he is in danger are the most striking, told with a minimalism which makes the already traumatic content being discussed even more unnerving.

It is a choice which admittedly feels like a documentary film marketer’s dream, something which may make some take notice of the film more but the artistic decision behind this is validated early (there is a GORGEOUS transition from Amin’s first interview into him reflecting on the early part of his life) which you would obviously not be able to capture in live action.

Saying this though, the story being told is more than enough to engage throughout. There are twists in the tale which even Rasmussen was obviously not aware of when he first started interviewing Amin which feed into his reluctance to settle down with his partner, the film being both a tale of a young man fleeing two oppressive societies while also looking at how the cross he bears from all of this affects him to the present day.

The unlocking of all of this by Rasmussen’s interviews literally seem to change the course of Amin’s life, the documentary maker having a material impact in the subject’s life quite by accident, and this creates a feeling you often don’t get in documentary, one which many documentarians would have quandaries over but it feels entirely appropriate here and lends a real power to the climax of the film.

Flee is a very special film, telling the story of a damaged but strong man whose life is absolute mana for filmmakers but never in a way which feels exploitative. Told with heart and a great deal of care, if its not one of the best films you see at LFF, you’ve had an all-timer.