Review: 'Flee' the Harrowing True Story of a Gay Afghan Refugee

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday December 3, 2021

'Flee'  (Source:Neon)

Jonas Poher Rasmussen's "Flee" is the timely and harrowing true story of Amin, a gay Afghanistan refugee who, by various means of human trafficking, makes his way from Kabul to Denmark.

Amin — whose name has been changed to protect him and his family — was born in the time of the Mujahadeen, when the USA and the USSR contrived to control Afghanistan by various nefarious alliances and betrayals of Afghan nationalists and Taliban fundamentalists. As the country descended into chaos and his father was killed, Amin, his mother, and his sisters manage to secure visas to Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed. After the visas expire, they are at the mercy of Moscow's poverty, corrupt police, and anti-foreign sentiment. Their only option is to put themselves in the hands of human traffickers. The ensuing terror of being moved across international borders in shipping containers — facing humiliation, powerlessness, suffocation, and drowning — tears the family apart. Eventually, Amin is able to make his way to Denmark, but only at the expense of claiming that his family has all died so that he can attain refugee status.

Amin's experience of people's capacity for cruelty, and the guilty feeling that he has let his family down, mean that he is unable to come to terms with his sexuality. At first, he seeks medical help to "cure" himself. Then he throws himself into his work and settles for transactional relationships. But over time, and with the surprises that love always brings, he finds space to connect all the conflicting parts of his identity.

Largely told through animation, documentary footage, and interview style confessional an extraordinary level of intimacy is achieved despite Amin's true face never being visible. Shifting from bright idealized cartoons of childhood to haunting sketches of nightmares, the empathetic visual language is able to bridge differences in culture, history, and background.

Whilst the story is anchored in Amin, the bigger picture looms large. The horror of human trafficking, exploitation, and degradation is inescapable. Whether the reaction is to feel sick to the stomach or to dab your eyes in the dark, the feelings will inevitably come. The masterful thing about this director's work is that it avoids artificial or clumsy emotional exploitation of the audience. With barely any music, the words hang alone in the air like witness testimony in a court. If it arouses guilt, Rasmussen is saying, it is because justice demands it. Awards committees around the world will probably agree.

"Flee" opens in theaters Dec. 3.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.