The notion of an anonymous recollection of a harrowing life is given extra power and resonance as presented in this absorbing and compassionate animated hybrid documentary from filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen.No fuzzy voices or shadowy interviews here, but rather a powerful first-person story of an Afghani forced to flee his homeland in the 1990s and who is still haunted by traumas of his journey.
The pseudonymous Amin Nawabi – he agreed to tell his story of persecution on the condition his identity was not revealed – in real-life knewRasmussen from their school days, which adds an extra level of understanding and even moments of gentle analysis. From his happy days as a boy in Kabul through to current situation and relationships in Denmark, he hesitantly reveals a sad story.
The hybrid animation technique works perfectly. Animation of their conversations are nuanced and illuminating (which means no clunky reconstructions), and are married with abstract, impressionistic, shadowy animation to present the worrying moments he only heard about second-hand, while archive footage of real-life historical events help reinforce a sense of time and place. The fact that executive producers are Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau should help give the film a little more leverage to break out.
But this is more to a story of escape. Amin talks about how as a happy child he romped around wearing a sister’s dress, before explaining the anxieties of growing up having sexual fantasies about Jean-Claude van Damme in a country where “homosexuals don’t exist”. After his father was taken by authorities and later “disappeared”, he and his mother, sisters and brother escaped to Moscow in the 1980s where an older adult brother – then living inSweden – was waiting for them.
The film harrowing recounts his two sisters’ journey to Sweden, packed into a shipping container by traffickers and almost dying, and his own eventual escape, education and attempt to find a balance in his life while also trying to deal with traumatic episodes that continue to haunt him. Then will to survive is counter-balanced by a sense of loneliness and psychological issues around trust and sense of identity.
The animation works especially well in the small, almost anecdotal, moments. Because Rasmussen animates their recorded conversations this also includes incidental aspects – such as Amin playing with a cat when he and his boyfriend visit a country house they are considering buying – which gives the film a human quality to sit alongside the more traumatic memories.
The balance of animation, archival footage and judicious use of1980s pop music – such as a joyous rendition of A-ha’s Take On Me while he is seen gambolling around the streets of Kabul – help round the film up into a moving, insightful and gently haunting story of one man’s journey. Empathetic and elegant, it is a powerful piece of documentary cinema.
Denmark-France-Sweden-Norway, 2021, 90mins
Dir Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Production Final Cut for Real, Vivement Lundi!, Most Film, MerFilm
International sales Cinephil
Producers Monica Courtois, Signe Byrge Sørensen
Animationproducer Charlotte De La Gournerie
Editor Janus Billeskov Jansen
Music Uno Helmersson
(First published in Business Doc Europe)