“Flee”, an animated film telling the true story of the flight strewn with pitfalls to Europe of a young gay Afghan refugee represents Denmark at the next Oscars.
Flee, an animated film telling the true story of the flight strewn with pitfalls to Europe of a young gay Afghan refugee, succeeds thanks to his drawings in putting a human face on this international crisis while preserving the anonymity of the one who inspired him.
Jonas Poher Rasmussen is the author of this hybrid documentary, awarded at the Sundance and Annecy festivals and will be Denmark’s official candidate for the next Oscars.
It was his friendship with “Amin” that gave him the idea of this project, the director told AFP.
“I was curious to know his past since I met him when we were 15, when he arrived in my city in Denmark,” recalls Jonas Rasmussen, now 40.
Initially, Amin did not want to talk about what he had experienced, fearing for his status as an asylum seeker but also to be perceived as a victim. It was in 2013 that the director, specialized in radio documentaries, had the idea of translating the interviews with his friend on the big screen, into an animated film.
“In this way, he can share his story and still meet people without suffering from preconceived ideas. These people will not know his most intimate secrets, his traumas, “says the author.
Because Flee is full of trauma, from the disappearance of Amin’s father in Kabul in the 1980s, in the middle of the communist regime, to his family’s decision to leave the capital, surrounded by Islamist fighters in 1996.
Real archive images of that time included in the documentary strangely recall the Taliban’s capture of Kabul this summer.
“Unfortunately, it became topical again all at once,” says Jonas Rasmussen, whose film had been selected for the 2020 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, finally cancelled due to Covid.
And from Denmark, Amin has witnessed the sad spectacle of “a new generation of Afghans pushed out of their country and who will find themselves in the same hell, probably even worse”.
Van Damme and Bollywood
Flee focuses on the now too familiar fate of the thousands of refugees who risk their lives every day to flee conflict zones and reach Europe.
During a poignant sequence represented by minimalist sketches, Amin’s sisters find themselves trapped in a stifling container as they seek to reach Scandinavia aboard a cargo ship crossing the Baltic Sea.
Amin himself will later make this crossing on an overcrowded boat and taking water everywhere but will be intercepted by the Estonian Coast Guard.
According to Mr. Rasmussen, this use of animation “swant to some extent more honest” than employing actors to embody police officers arresting migrants.
“More surreally, it’s good to immerse yourself in the emotions (of the character), to show your terror, because that’s really what happened there,” he says.
The director was inspired by Waltz with Bashir, an Israeli animated film dedicated to the testimony of former soldiers who participated in the Lebanon War in 1982.
Looking at him, he found it easier to follow a story without seeing real “suffering faces”. “These animated and intermediate images meant that I did not keep at bay with what I saw, as I would probably have done in normal times.”
Animation also introduces a dose of humor to tragic events, for example when Amin remembers the pink walkman on whom he listened to pop in his youth in Kabul, who gives a sequence of pencil sketches reminiscent of A-han’s famous clip, Take on Me.
Jean-Claude van Damme and Bollywood stars, the young boy’s secret loves at the time, wink at him from posters or screens.
“You have the right to laugh with him, to laugh at him,” says the director, who hopes to retrace the story “of a human being who, at some point in his life, had no control over what was happening to him”.