Film review: Flee

The critically acclaimed animated documentary is a highlight of this year's Manchester Animation Festival

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Running throughout the second half of November, the Manchester Animation Festival ( returns for a seventh year as a hybrid event, with some films and events happening live at Manchester’s Home cinema and many others available online. The festival offers a range of feature length movies for adults and children, short films, Q&As, workshops and talks.

The standout feature film of the festival is the animated documentary drama Flee. Already garnering a vast amount of critical acclaim, this is the true story of Amin, an openly gay 36-year-old academic living in Denmark who must grapple with a secret that he has kept hidden for 20 years.

Amin relates his life story to his close friend Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the film’s director, and as this conversation unfolds on screen, mainly illustrated via colourful animation but with the occasional snippet of archive footage intertwined, we learn how he escaped war-torn Afghanistan as a child in the 1980s. Already grappling with his burgeoning sexuality, the young Amin then endures life as an illegal refugee in Moscow as he and his family plot their escape to the west to join his brother who has already made a life there.

As Amin recounts tales of terrifying encounters with corrupt Soviet police, a disastrous attempt to escape Russia using human traffickers and internment in an Estonian refugee camp, the story intercuts with the present day as the now high-flying academic slowly comes to terms with the horrors that he has been through and the emotional scars that they have left behind.

It’s not all grim. Nostalgic pop tunes pepper an otherwise emotionally charged score and an early scene involves young Amin dancing through the streets of Kabul as he listens to A-ha’s Take on Me. A scene where Amin is introduced to his first gay club via an unexpected route is a delight.

Flee is rightly said to have Oscar potential. It’s a great example of how animation can enthrallingly bring to life one man’s story with thrilling intensity, while illuminating the suffering of refugees as a whole.

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