'Flee' review: Animated documentary is no children's fable

A refugee from Afghanistan tells his story in innovative, immersive documentary.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A refugee from Afghanistan tells the harrowing tale of his journey from war-torn Kabul to somewhere resembling home in "Flee," which uses a mix of animation styles to chronicle his unimaginable story. Yes it's animated, but "Flee" is no cartoon. 

A scene from "Flee."

Amin Nawabi is the subject of the documentary — he uses a pseudonym in order to protect his true identity — and he's recounting his tale to his filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen, who helps talk him through the details in meetings that resemble therapy sessions.

Even through the animation, you can feel the incredible toll that has been taken on Amin's soul, as well as his burden lifting as he finally is able to open up about who he is, what he's seen and where he's been.   

Amin is growing up in the 1980s in Kabul, and an early scene is set to A-ha's "Take On Me," a sort-of kindred spirit when it comes to groundbreaking animation. 

He wore his sister's clothes early on and was attracted to action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, not that he knew what those things meant yet, but he knew it made him an outsider. Amin's self-discovery runs parallel to his family's quest for freedom, which takes them to Russia in the hopes of eventually fleeing for Sweden.

It's no easy road. Amin's reserved narration, which borders on trepidation, illustrates the fear, the shame and the dejection he has felt throughout his life, and the inhumane conditions he's suffered on his quest for freedom.  

That he's now able to recount that trek shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And it makes "Flee" a triumph, not only of the filmed variety but a human one, as well. 





Rated PG-13: for thematic content, disturbing images and strong language

Running time: 88 minutes

In theaters