Oscars: “Flee”, a “human face” rather than a label for refugees

In the running for three Oscars on Sunday night, the Danish animated documentary Flee wanted to return “a human face” to migrants and remember that being a refugee “is not an identity”explains its director in an interview with AFP.

Journey of a young gay Afghan fleeing the troubles of his native country for Denmark, the film comes under the spotlight of the American ceremony while millions of Ukrainians are today on the roads of the exodus, with a door much more open than for other migrants.

“I really hope that we can give nuance and perspective (…) and show that being a refugee is not an identity, it is a circumstance of life”explains Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

In 2015, “We had Syrian refugees on the highways here in Denmark, and all over Europe. And I felt more the need to give a human face to these people”he said during a meeting with AFP on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The documentary revolves around a conversation between the 40-year-old director and his childhood friend – renamed “Amin” in the film – who came 25 years ago, as a teenager, to settle alone in a small village in the countryside not far from Copenhagen.

“It’s a film born of a friendship”, insists Poher Rasmussen. At the beginning, “I didn’t think of making a political film”.

His perspective, however, evolved during the long – almost 10 years – process of conception and realization.

Combining classic 2D and charcoal with archival images, Flee offers a reflection on the pangs of flight as much as on the quest for a place in the world, a universal theme.

“I think people can really relate to the universality of the story”says the director. “Most people, at some point in their lives, are looking for that place where they can be, honestly, who they are.”

The film also obviously found another topical echo with the return to power of the Taliban in Kabul last summer.

In the 80s and 90s, as a child wearing his sister’s dresses and then as a teenager fantasizing about Jean-Claude Van Damme’s musculature, “Amin” could not freely express his homosexuality, a constraint that culminated with the Taliban taking power in Afghanistan in 1994.


“It’s really the story of someone who had to run away from himself all his life”notes Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

The film traces “the search for a place in the world where you can be who you are, with all that that entails, with your sexuality, your past, and everything else”.

Arrived in Denmark around 1996, his friend then did not dare to tell his life story and built himself an armor that prevented him from opening up to others.

Now married and the owner of a house in Denmark, “Amin” is delighted that his anonymity reinforced by the use of animation will allow him to live incognito without everyone knowing the traumas of his youth and the procrastination of his life as a child. adult, according to his filmmaker friend.

Denmark’s official candidate in the best foreign film category, the film, awarded at the Sundance and Annecy festivals, is also nominated for the Oscar for best animated film and best documentary.

A paradox for a Denmark known for its ultra-restrictive reception policy but which has also changed hands with the Ukrainians.

Jonas Poher Rasmussen admits having been surprised by the success of his film – his eighth – he who had never really broken through abroad unlike his Danish colleagues Lars von Trier or Thomas Vinterberg.

“At the beginning, we thought that our criterion for success would be a national television, here (in Denmark). And then the project grew and grew, and all of a sudden, here we are with three Oscar nominations.”he marvels.

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Oscars: “Flee”, a “human face” rather than a label for refugees