Screen animation is generally about whimsical or manic flights, fantasy, escapism, and wild daring. To run awayUsing animation has nothing to do with it. It’s a film grounded in harsh emotions and harsh realities, impressionistic sketches illustrating half-forgotten things from the past, or a simple, almost graphic-novel style that presents us with a difficult present.
Animation also provides a vital cover for its protagonist: anonymity. Danish filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen has several previous documentaries under his belt, but none of them have been animated. Here he protects the identity of his childhood friend, “Amin Nawabi” (not his real name; other details have also been changed), as Nawabi recounts how as a child he fled Kabul, in Afghanistan with his family. in the early 1990s, and how he found himself alone in Copenhagen a few years later. Nawabi needs protection for many reasons, including her own psychological fragility, but perhaps the most important reason is this: a lie.
Some will find this inflammatory, a reason to be wary of refugees and asylum seekers. I hope the heartbreaking beauty of To run away will soften such a conviction. For this is a deeply human film that makes the despair of those who undertake such dangerous journeys as Nawabi’s firmly palpable, and makes a tacit and effortless plea for compassion for their plight.
Home is, Nawabi decides during an interview with Rasmussen early in the film, “where you know you can stay and don’t have to move on.” The simplicity of it becomes increasingly poignant as Nawabi recounts the long and difficult story of being forced to abandon a happy home in Kabul as the civil war of the 1980s came to an end with the withdrawal of Soviet troops supporting the government. , and a few years later, the Taliban, an offshoot of the US-backed mujahideen rebels, descended on the city.
Life in Kabul was most happy, that is to say for young Amin. Her father had been arrested by the government years earlier, though Nawabi doesn’t seem to know exactly what that entailed. Uncertainty therefore seems to have been a constant companion in Amin’s life, and it only got worse when he, his two sisters, a brother and their mother fled to Moscow, entering on tourist visas and their overstaying as they tried to get to Sweden, where an older brother – who had escaped years earlier to avoid being drafted into the Civil War – was living.
To run away between the present – where Nawabi is slowly overcoming his reluctance to tell his story and struggles to commit to his boyfriend, Kasper – and the past, where we learn why he is struggling so much: “It takes time to learn trust people” when you’ve been through what he’s been through. “You are always on your guard”, even around caring people, as he finally discovered in Denmark after years of abuse and abuse, by authorities such as police and border officials, and by criminals such as human traffickers. (Growing up gay in Afghanistan, where, he says, there isn’t even a word for “gay,” left its own mark of confusion.)
The inhumanity of human trafficking, seen through several horrific journeys here – one for his sisters, another with his brother and mother, a third on his own – is poignant. The refugees’ extreme vulnerability, including a brief encounter with a girl in a van that still haunts Amin, is its own argument for a complete overhaul of the way we lucky ones in safe places treat the unlucky ones who don’t want to. than the security we have.
This is especially true when the same cycles of violence and suffering repeat themselves. To run away was produced over the course of several years in the mid-2010s as much of Europe was getting tougher on refugees. The film debuted at last year’s Sundance Film Festival (where it won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary). And yet, we saw a near-Xerox breakout of Nawabi from Kabul play out again last summer, as the United States withdrew its forces and the Taliban returned in force. The architects of the crises that create the refugees have learned nothing. We will almost certainly hear more stories like Amin’s in 30 years. A decent and compassionate society would listen to Amin Nawabi’s trauma, understand why he kept his secrets – and still must – and make sure no one else has to endure what he has. shall we? Can we?