PG-13 for, once again, reminders of how the world is a terrible place filled with sadness, death, human trafficking, and torture. While there isn't anything too graphic on screen, the content itself is heavy. While I don't specifically remember language, I'm sure its there. (These are the problems that you run into when you watch a lot of movies that have heavy content.) PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
I'm writing in the morning. It's a weirdly scheduled day and I think I might have to write in the morning to ensure that this gets out. Trust me, there are times that I would just settle with pushing this back. But I also am a creature of habit who really enjoys meeting goals to stave off depression. (I didn't think that sentence would just pop out the way it did, but I'm not going to fight it.) It's kind of satisfying to have the morning sun meet the clacking of my keyboard. I'm blasting Mozart partially to distract the part of my brain that would look to procrastinate, but also to seem super intellectual at the same time. I hope I can keep this up.
Flee should hit me harder than it did. I don't think that's anything to do with the movie. I'm obsessed with the plight of the refugee. I think the first time I really saw my liberal fury engulf into flame was watching the Trump crowd rally around a refugee ban. As the child of refugees, it scared me. Had the refugee ban been around when my parents were escaping Nazis, I wouldn't exist. True story. As such and realizing that my button is the plight of the refugee, I've been watching and reading a lot of these stories. I've been sharing news articles and videos about refugee rights. I've advocated for the easing of restrictions regarding entrance to the United States. But the consequence is that I've now heard a lot. Like watching horror movies and not getting scared anymore, I can't help but flash to the other tales of sadness when it comes to refugees. Amin's story is objectively heartbreaking. But there's something about the presentation that kind of bothers me.
If I spent the entire last paragraph establishing how empathetic I am to the plight of the refugee, I have to confess the fact that I'm a complete butthead when it comes to aesthetics and visual arts. I'm a guy who marvels at fantastic art. I can't make images have depth or perspective to save my life. Like my toddlers' drawings of Spider-Man (spelled "Sit-Man"), everything is in two dimensions. But I also really appreciate an artist destroying my mind with gorgeous art. So when something isn't visually appealing, it really bums me out. And the thing is...this story has been told in an absolutely gorgeous fashion. I hate comparing who has the more affective refugee non-fiction story because these people's lives aren't horrible for my entertainment. These are real people going through real misery. But for my awful bottom dollar, I have to say that Persepolis did a very similar story, but did it better. While Flee weaves in the story of Amin's homosexuality in the backdrop of the Muhjadeen, there's something very clunky about the whole story. It's disjointed. It's not overtly bad, but it is somehow undercooked.
But where Flee really crushes and it got to me is the insanity of normality for the refugee. There's a part of the movie where they are hiding out in Russia. Their visas have expired. Russia is collapsing under the fall of the Soviet Union. Nothing is good for these people and they are being crushed under the boredom of not living as people. In Russia, because they don't want to get deported, they have to hide all day in an apartment watching telenovelas. It's the only thing that they can get that they can understand, so they watch it all day, every day. That doesn't sound so bad, but there's a reality that we kind of ignore. People are not meant to be one thing. There is the inevitability that they will get caught and they can only do one thing to maintain their sanity, which has to be slowly slipping away. That's something that got to me. They can't even work and contribute to society just to get out of the country. To do this whole thing right, they have to continually run and watch these stupid TV shows in the hopes that they can just continue to do this tomorrow.
But where Flee really does shine, beyond the horror of infinite and dehumanizing boredom, is to shine a light on the evil of the coyote. For those who might not know anything about illegal immigration, there are people who are willing to break the law to help people go from one country to another. This is the realm of human traffickers. From one perspective, these people can be considered humanitarians. A person wants to escape a country and these people will take risk upon themselves to make that happen. Sure, they're getting paid. But I'm also getting paid to teach. Okay, I'm barely getting paid to teach, but that's a different story. But the other perspective of the coyote is something far more horrible. It's the perspective that we're meant to take about the role of immigration: the complete disrespect for human life. Flee stresses that the traffickers are not good people. They don't care about your survival. They want money and they don't want to get caught. If things don't work out after they get their money, that's collateral damage.
Maybe the biggest problem I have isn't burnout. Again, that's a me thing. But maybe the fact that it is animated detracts a lot for me. Because Amin's damage is so palpable and honest that I want to talk about that. He has a hard time having healthy relationships, even with good people. Amin and his fiancé get along. He seems nice and patient. But Amin also can't be completely honest with him. His natural inclination is to hide things, like he hid a lot of his identity for his life. The fact that he has a family and starts with the lie that they are all dead kind of is telling of who he is today. There's little chance of him going back, yet there is so much here that is meant to preserve his identity. That's so interesting and I think that a lot of it is buried under the need to make this animation work that honestly doesn't. I know that I might be alone in this response because I keep hearing about how the animation is amazing. I just don't really get that vibe. It seems scattered and rough and just impedes over a story that can stand on its own two legs. Yeah, I get it. It is for the sake of anonymity. But it still doesn't really play well with me for the most part.
So it is a gorgeous story told in a simplistic manner. There are moments where emotionally moving elements don't hit as well because of the execution. It still is worth watching, but it isn't perfect.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.