Sundance Film Festival: ‘Flee’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Flee directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen is a very inventive, animated documentary feature. It blends archive footage, 80s pop music, a heartbreaking true story and hand-drawn craft, that brings audiences into the world of a teen, trying to flee multiple countries. The mixture of all these things breaks the constraints of documentary filmmaking and takes it to new heights. Rasmussen takes the viewer on this journey through beautiful imagery that masks the horrors of the events.

An Afghan refugee wants to retell his story, his truth, something that he has had to keep hidden for a very long time. Everything is set like a regular documentary, except through the use of animation, it allows the filmmaker to take more control of the narrative. By using animation, there are so many ways to show audiences different perspectives of the story that maybe couldn’t be shown through live-action. The message through the imagery allows a different interpretation entirely. The animation evokes emotional responses because of how evil or horror can be shown.

Rasmussen controls this narrative and structures it in a way that will make you experience a documentary so differently. The transitions from archive footage, to animated flashbacks allows the viewer to be taken in and out of his reality. The pain, suffering and trauma is balanced throughout the narrative so it isn’t completely jarring. The subject of human trafficking is heavy and can be presented in many ways, some obviously more brutal than others. But Rasmussen finds a way to create those moments through animation to give the viewer a different emotional connection to its subject.

Flee left me in awe of Rasmussen’s work and how different his approach was. It has a fresh take on the genre of filmmaking and I think that is what is so great about it. It’s unique with a powerful story. There are moments where the pacing is a bit off, so it dips down with its energy but it picks back up and gets its footing again. It also felt even more personal because of the interaction between the subject and one of his closest friends interviewing him. There was a comfort that normally wouldn’t be there and I think it worked extremely well.

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