ARTE – MONDAY 30 MAY AT 20.50 – ANIMATED DOCUMENTARY
During the last Oscar campaign, Escape (“escape”, in French) has been nominated three times, in the categories of documentary, animated feature film and international feature film, which partly outlines the contours of this work, which differs slightly from the abundant filmography born of the population movements in the XX.e century.
By choosing animated images to stage the story of Amin, who traveled as a child from Afghanistan and arrived in Denmark as a teenager, the Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen opened a poetic space for this story of exile, loss and reconstruction. Far from being just the symbolic figure of a just cause or a social problem, Amin is both person and character, a wounded man in whose intimacy we step forward, in the footsteps of the filmmaker.
Jonas Poher Rasmussen met Amin (not his real name, and one of the film’s issues is the revelation of the reasons for this anonymity) in the 1990s, when they were both high school students in Denmark. After becoming a documentary filmmaker, the first very early asked the second to tell him his story. It took more than a decade for the young man, who had become a well-known academic, to accept giving of himself. And we will understand through the sequences the cause of this reserve, which hides in a literally indescribable secret, so much so that it endangers the very existence of the one who has it.
On screen, Amin will perform this revelation lying on a multicolored bedspread, framed as if a camera were placed over his face. This psychoanalytic installation speaks volumes about the director’s desire to build his film around words.
While Amin talks about her memories, the images change in texture. The most traumatic moments are treated in monochrome, with unstable contours, everyday life in the form of a more traditional, polychrome, relatively fluid animation. Everyday life in Kabul before the disaster, when Amin was a little boy who liked to wear his sisters’ dresses. Everyday life in Copenhagen, where someone who has joined the intelligentsia hesitates to marry his companion. In addition, there are some archive images showing both a congress of the People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan (pro-Soviet) and a detention center in Estonia.
The Taliban’s takeover ends up pushing Amin and his family into exile in Russia during the first post-Soviet years.
These last elements give an idea of the itinerary of Amin, his four brothers and sisters, and his mother. For them, the nightmare begins a little earlier than for the majority of Afghans, as their father and husband disappear after his arrest by police in the USSR-backed government. Taliban coming to power ends up pushing them into exile, in Russia in the first post-Soviet years. One of the film’s most shocking sequences is built around archival footage showing the inauguration of Moscow’s first McDonald’s; current movements in history give it an even more eerie resonance.
If this story grips as the most energetic of dramas, its political reach is not suffocated. Denmark, which welcomed Amin about 20 years ago, closed its doors and put heavy pressure on the population with an immigrant background. As for the refugees trying to reach Europe via its eastern side, as the protagonist of Escapethey must now add war to the list of obstacles – xenophobia, greed, corruption – that stand in the way.
Escape, animated documentary by Jonas Poher Rasmussen (Dan., 2020, 84 min). Available on demand on Arte.tv until 28 July.