Thursday, October 20, 2022

Kabul-ing a Life

Film: Flee (Flugt)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on various players.

Oscar has a real problem with animated films. Every now and then, a film like Flee (or Flugt in the original Danish) is nominated for Best Animated Feature. This is not a movie for children, and it’s clearly been nominated because it deserves to be, but it didn’t have a chance in a million of actually winning. The same was true of Anomolisa and Persepolis. Remember that the Academy is an organization that thought Waltz with Bashir was one of the best non-English features of its year but that it wasn’t worth nominating as an animated feature over a mid-range forgettable clunker like Bolt.

Flee is a documentary about Amin Nawabi, an Aghan refugee now living in Denmark. Nawabi fled Afghanistan with most of his family, but for political, financial, and other reasons, has been separated from them. This is a true story with names changed specifically to protect people who need to be protected. It is a story of terror, fear, violation, and ultimately triumph. Seriously, this is a little bit of a spoiler, but if any documentary story deserves its happy ending, it’s this one.

We learn early on that Amin is gay, and while that’s going to be a problem in a lot of places, it’s especially going to become a problem in an Afghanistan that is slowly being taken over by the Taliban. But first, there are the problems of the communist government that preceded the Taliban. Amin’s father is taken away, his fate still unknown. Young men start being rounded up to fight in the military for the Afghan government, so Amin, his brother, two sisters, and mother flee the country, ending up in Moscow.

From here, the family works to send members to Sweden, where Amin’s oldest sibling lives. He saves money as he can in an effort to get his family to safety via human traffickers, who are expensive and unreliable. Both of Amin’s sisters come close to dying, and an attempt to get the Sweden sees Amin, his mother, and his brother sent to a compound in Estonia and then back to Moscow. They are abused, their money stolen by corrupt police, and always there is the threat of being returned to Afghanistan.

Flee is an animated film, but not entirely. It is intercut with video footage from the events of the time, the communist takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban takeover after that, Moscow, Estonia, Denmark and more. In that regard, it would appear that the Academy has loosened its restrictions on animated film—this is mostly archival footage rather than something created for the film (this being the main theory why The LEGO Movie was denied a nomination)—but it’s at least a move in the right direction.

The animation may be what kept Flee from serious consideration. We tend to have very high expectations of our animation, and the animation in Flee is not what we would typically think of as “Oscar quality,” It’s not bad, it’s just flat and jerky, as if frames have been removed from it. Additionally, a considerable percentage of the animation is far more impressionistic, especially in situations where Amin is in fear for his life or fleeing from somewhere to somewhere else.

Once it is clear that Amin is gay, I thought that this is where the movie was going to go. While it is important in a number of places in terms of who Amin is, it’s never really that critical to the plot. Amin has a life in Denmark with a man named Kaspar, and it comes up a few times in the narrative, but this is never about being gay and fleeing the Taliban. In that respect, it’s kind of refreshing; this could have been a whole different type of depressing.

It's difficult not to find Flee compelling. There’s a reason that this is the first movie nominated not only for Best Animated Feature but also Best Foreign Language Feature and Best Documentary Feature. It is an important document of life as a refugee, of how the world frequently treats the people who most need aid and comfort, and it does not reflect well on us.

There are, ultimately, two kinds of people in the world when it comes to a film like Flee. There are those who will find it compelling because of the story it tells, and who will empathize with Amin and his struggle to find a life where he doesn’t feel like he needs to constantly look over his shoulder for what might be coming. And there are also those who fret more about borders and people with different skin colors getting into their country. If you’re the second type, you can’t also be the first type without a lot of cognitive dissonance.

Why to watch Flee: Because this is the world we live in.
Why not to watch: If you thought it was funny when refugees were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, this movie will make you angry because it shows you just how much of an asshole you are.


  1. This is a film that I want to see as I've heard great things about this. Man, I really hope someone drops a fucking nuke on Mar-a-Lago as I don't think we will miss that place at all. Florida is becoming a fucking cesspool right now. It's been nearly 20 years since I last went there and they have the worst fucking drivers ever. It was also the last time I ever went on a vacation which I didn't enjoy at all. I hate cruise ships. I don't think this whole refugee shit that Ron DeSantis is doing is funny at all. I'd like to see that motherfucker be sodomized to death.

    1. I can't imagine wanting to go to Florida right now. My wife and I were talking about the possibility of a Christmas trip this year, and when Key West came up as a possibility--regardless of the fact that Key West is incredibly unlike the rest of Florida--no one was interested in going.

  2. This was a very compelling watch. Glad you enjoyed it too!

    1. I agree. It's actually a relief in a way that it's just about him getting to safety and not about him being gay. It means that his sexuality is becoming more normalized and we can tell stories that are about people rather than specifically about that aspect of him.