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‘Flee’ Is a Riveting Animated Documentary About an Afghan Refugee

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‘Flee’ Is a Riveting Animated Documentary About an Afghan Refugee
Flee is a devastating yet beautiful mixture of realism and un-reality. Vice Studios

Documentary realism rarely goes hand-in-hand with animated un-reality, but in Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, those two aesthetic worlds collide and create a feeling of being unmoored. The film follows Rasmussen’s long-time friend Amin Nawabi—a pseudonym to protect his identity—via interviews about his secretive escape from war-torn Kabul in the 1980s, his perilous refugee journey through several countries, and his life as a gay Muslim man who, one way or another, has to hide some part of himself. In a mere 90 minutes, the film plunges the audience into the depths of refugee trauma and the systems set in place to strip people of their dignity, but it also builds to moments of stunning euphoria, and to a moving, deeply considered understanding of the way Nawabi has had to compartmentalize his soul.

The film occasionally follows Nawabi during his daily routine, but for most of the interview segments, he lies supine, with the camera suspended above him, as if it were documenting a closed session of long-overdue therapy. These interviews are animated—rotoscoped, in fact—so as to hide Nawabi’s face, but even the most insignificant of noises are turned up in the sound mix, like Nawabi’s tense breath, and the way he shifts into position when he lays down to speak. His concealed reality frequently pierces the animated veil. Art director Jess Nicholls re-creates his subtle glances off-camera, as his doubts about revealing himself and his painful story come to the fore. Eventually, he makes stunning confessions to his friend Rasmussen, about his family and their whereabouts, which he has revealed to no one—not even his long-term boyfriend—for the nearly two decades he’s lived in Denmark.


Flee ★★★★
(4/4 stars)
Directed by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Written by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Running time: 90 mins.


The frame stands completely still when it captures Nawabi’s hesitance, but when he begins telling his story, it zips through time and space. Archival live-action footage establishes the broader political backdrop, while Nawabi’s intimate flashbacks transform in animation style. They capture his youthful zeal as a bit of an oddball child, with sweet crushes on Hollywood and Bollywood leading men, and a soundtrack of European and American pop music blasting from his pink headphones as he frolics through the streets. These flashbacks also capture the vague shapes of crumbling buildings and empty, transparent silhouettes of Afghan bystanders fleeing the US-USSR conflict. Nawabi’s memories of childhood happiness with his mother and his many siblings feel warm, and whole, but his memories of the war start out as suppressed. They lack finer details. These are eventually filled in the more he opens up—to the camera, and to himself.

His journey takes years, and it breaks up his family bit by bit, as they’re forced to navigate cruel and expensive traffickers and corrupt local authorities in several countries, who are hell-bent on using ghoulish immigration laws against them. Some of this quiet barbarism is downright nauseating, not because physical cruelty is overtly depicted, but because of how the film captures and magnifies its depressing impact, turning people, once again, into shaded sketches, where their humanity becomes lost. At their most monstrous, these events—as recalled by Nawabi—even lead to the animation becoming disintegrated and abstract as he migrates from region to region, as if he were unable to find any semblance of belonging, or permanence, or solid ground.

The effects of Nawabi’s trauma linger in the present. His decisions are often clinical and career-focused, born of a personal resolve to live up to his family’s sacrifices, and born of a gnawing survivor’s guilt that prevents him from pursuing happiness. He also opens each new chapter of his story with a fearful quiver in his voice. His stress doesn’t seem to subside no matter how close he is to Rasmussen, because of the way his story and legal status have been used against him in the past. In the present, he remains closed off from the world as a means to survive.

The original score, by Uno Helmersson, matches Nawabi’s most hopeless recollections through heavy strings that sink into the pit of your stomach. Its most memorable notes, however, arrive during a particularly pulsating scene, where the tension of Nawabi revealing a secret part of himself gives way to an unexpected display of acceptance. The music, while as hesitant and restrained as Nawabi by design, pushes forward regardless, and builds to a moment of liberation that, while fleeting, feels emotionally exhilarating. The film’s visual and aural fabric, after embodying so much anguish and indignity, radiates an overwhelming warmth and tenderness—a uniquely moving catharsis.  

An unfortunately timely film, Flee uses animation primarily to sharpen the dangerous edges of its refugee story, and to capture the devastating physical and emotional toll of never-ending war. But in brief moments, the film acts as a spiritual balm, offering hints and possibilities of a world where Nawabi might one day be able to fully share himself with other people. Where he might one day feel whole.


Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Flee’ Is a Riveting Animated Documentary About an Afghan Refugee

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins players say lack of veteran leadership contributes to skid

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins players say lack of veteran leadership contributes to skid

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Last year Ryan Fitzpatrick lost his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa, the rookie quarterback the Miami Dolphins wanted to build around.

Nevertheless, the savvy veteran was still called on in emergency game situations when clutch play was needed and retained his alpha male status in the locker room, which is why he was given the Leadership Award by his teammates at the end of the 2020 season.

Ereck Flowers taught Miami’s young offensive linemen how to be pros on and off the field, and former Dolphins center Ted Karras taught them how to study film and made proper in-game protection calls.

Former Dolphins safety Bobby McCain held the secondary together, making all the coverage checks and calls, keeping the unit on one accord.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy made many of the front-line checks and got everyone in position. According to team sources, Van Noy also routinely challenged the coaching staff about troublesome game plans and in-game calls, keeping them accountable to the players.

If we’re doing a deep dive on what’s gone wrong this season with the Dolphins — attempting to explain how a 10-6 team in 2020 delivered a 1-6 start in 2021 — we have to bring up the purge of leaders that took place this offseason.

As a free agent, Fitzpatrick moved to Washington, where he was named the starter before injuring his hip in the season opener, and Tagovailoa has struggled to come out of his shadow as a leader, not player.

“He’s great, and he’s trying,” one Dolphins player said about Tagovailoa, who owns a 7-6 record as Miami’s starting quarterback heading into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills (4-2). “But it’s not Fitz.”

Releasing Van Noy and McCain, trading away Flowers to move up 14 spots in the seventh round of the draft, and not re-signing Karras created cap space. But their departures left leadership voids on units that have struggled this season.

Miami’s linebacker unit has have been a mess, and Jaelan Phillips has struggled to replace Van Noy. The secondary constantly features breakdowns, although Jevon Holland has shown early promise as the starting free safety. The offensive line is on its third starting center and lacks a quality NFL starter like Flowers, who has started every game for Washington this season.

In a tough stretch like Miami’s six-game losing streak, leadership matters, because it is those veterans who are responsible for the heavy lifting when it comes to restoring morale and instilling fight and belief into the team.

Elandon Roberts, Jesse Davis and Clayton Fejedelem, who were all captains in 2020, and receiver Mack Hollins are doing their best to steer the Dolphins into less troubling waters.

But somehow, this team has lost its way.

“As a leader, you learn that it’s hard to motivate people. You’ve got to learn from each individual person what each individual person needs,” said Hollins, who was named an offensive captain this season.

“There are guys that need to get [yelled at]. There are guys who need to be brought over to the side. There are guys that you need to tell their best friend that [they] need to talk to them. Being able to maneuver that is something all leaders [must do]. You never complete that job. It’s never I know how to work with everybody, especially in this league because there are always people changing, there are always new teammates, there are always new players.”

And that’s part of the problem the Dolphins have had trying to build on 2020′s success.

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins held a players-only meeting to address what they felt were the team’s pressing issues.

There was talk about accountability, lack of effort and commitment, doing the extra things in practices and the team’s preparation, the need for more excitement and energy on the field.

Plenty of talk happened.

The problem is, it didn’t stop the bleeding, and sources say the solutions proposed — more energy, more accountability — weren’t going to fix anything, because it’s on-field execution that has been the issue.

“Are players who make mistakes getting benched?” a Dolphins defender asked. “Are they losing their roles? They pushed out the veterans for the young guys, and then wonder why we don’t look the same. It’s because mistakes keep getting made, and who is being held accountable?”

More importantly, who has this team been able to lean on for performances that back up the words of wisdom, or inspirational prep talk?

After all, words are better followed up with action.

“We’ve just got to take it one game, one play and one practice at a time. It’s no secret,” said Roberts, who will likely have more responsibility if Jerome Baker, the team’s leading tackler, is sidelined by the knee injury he suffered in last Sunday’s 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

“There’s no magical thing that you need to do as a captain or as a teammate. It’s nothing. You just got to come in every day with the work mentality to get it right, and that’s by taking it one practice at a time, taking it one play at time and taking it one game at a time.”

©2021 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Jets owner Woody Johnson still has confidence in Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh

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Jets owner Woody Johnson still has confidence in Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh

NEW YORK — Despite the Patriots’ 54-13 obliteration of the Jets in Week 7, Jets owner Woody Johnson still believes in the organization’s new infrastructure.

“I have unwavering, steadfast confidence in Joe [Douglas], Robert [Saleh] and the coaching staff,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’ve been around for going on 22 years, with my little absence that I had recently, and this is a good group. So we will get it right.”

Johnson — who returned to helm his struggling football team earlier this year after four seasons away while serving as President Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom — spoke to the media at the start of the NFL owners’ meetings in Manhattan.

Johnson labeled the beatdown from their arch-rival last weekend “frustrating,” but said his focus has turned to the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) who crushed the Baltimore Ravens, 41-17, in Week 7 and are tied for the best record in the AFC. The Jets are 1-5 under Saleh, who was hired while Woody’s brother Christopher was still running Gang Green and is a first-time head coach. Douglas was hired in June 2019.

In the two seasons with Adam Gase as head coach the Jets started 1-8 (2019) and 0-13 (2020). But regardless of which Johnson is running the show, the Jets have been one of the worst-run franchises in the league and have the longest active playoff drought (10 seasons and counting).

The Jets’ latest embarrassing start is due to another inept offense and struggling defense. They rank in the bottom five in scoring offense and points allowed. Their offense hasn’t scored a point in the first quarter through six games.

But Johnson still believes in the direction of the long-term plan.

Why?

“Just talking to the leadership with Joe and Robert, talking to them and seeing how their plans are put together, how they’re deep thinkers,” Johnson said. “I think they want to do things like establish a culture and they’re getting the right players in the right positions.”

Johnson might have complete faith in this leadership team, but he might be one of the few.

Ex-Jets coach Rex Ryan — who led Gang Green to back-to-back conference title games at the start of his tenure with the team — blasted Saleh after the loss.

“A complete embarrassment for Robert Saleh and his coaching staff,” Ryan, now an ESPN analyst, said Monday on “Get Up!” “By the way, guys, here’s the scary thing — they’re coming off a bye, a bye! … There’s no passion.”

“You saw a team that knows what the hell they’re doing, the coaching staff with a rookie quarterback, the New England Patriots. That kid [Mac Jones] looks like a seasoned pro. You look at the other side, you’ve got a horrendous coaching staff with a quarterback [Zach Wilson] that looks 100 percent lost.”

There’s no question the shiny new toy hasn’t played well during his rookie year. The first-year quarterback has thrown for 1,168 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing just 57% of his passes. It’s not all on the former BYU star, though. There have been offensive inconsistencies across the board from shaky offensive line play to an invisible running game to underperforming weapons.

And to add injury to insult, Wilson suffered a sprained PCL in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss in Foxborough that will likely sideline him between two to four weeks. But Johnson claimed he has zero concerns about the No. 2 overall pick.

“It’s a very young team with a young quarterback. He’s 22 years old. He just turned 22,” Johnson said. “So he’s seeing things for the first time. Like a lot of the young quarterbacks. It’s gonna take him a little bit of time but I have a lot of confidence in Zach, too.”

Wilson’s injury prompted the Jets to trade a conditional sixth-round pick to the Eagles for Joe Flacco on Monday because their only backup QB was Mike White, who saw his first NFL game action when Wilson went down on Sunday.

The Jets don’t look much different than how they did in 2020 — or for much of the last decade — but at least the boss seems to have an abundance of confidence in Wilson, Saleh and Douglas to get Gang Green in the right direction.

©2021 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Retired Patriots safety Patrick Chung arrested for domestic violence in Massachusetts

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50 Colo. Time dealers, Wells are auto fame inductees

Oct. 26—Three-time Super Bowl champion and recently retired Patriots safety Patrick Chung has pleaded not guilty to domestic violence and vandalism charges out of Milton.

The onetime fan favorite was hauled into Quincy District Court Tuesday for the charges against “a family member/household member” and vandalism. Milton Police, records state, arrested him Monday.

He’s accused of allegedly assaulting the mother of one of his children, records state.

Prosecutors asked for $10,000 cash bail and terms that he would not have contact with the victim, according to a spokesperson for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey. Chung was released on $10,000 personal surety and a restraining order.

The victim’s name has not been released.

In May 2020, Chung signed a two-year contract extension with a $3 million signing bonus to play safety for the Patriots through 2023. He opted out of the 2020-21 season, citing COVID-19 concerns. In March 2021, the 34-year-old announced his retirement after 11 seasons in the NFL and three Super Bowl wins with the Patriots.

“I’m in tears writing this but I’ve decided to hang up the cleats. Bill, Mr. Kraft, thank you for giving me the opportunity to play for your team for 11 years. I love you. Bill, for teaching me life on and off the field, (I) will not forget that,” he said in part on social media when he retired.

Chung spent several seasons with the Patriots, playing in Foxboro from 2009 to 2012, and again from 2014 until his career’s end. Teammates voted him a captain in 2018. He was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams and was named to the New England Patriots 2010s “All-Decade” team.

This isn’t Chung’s first run-in with local authorities. In 2019, Chung faced a felony charge of cocaine possession after drugs were allegedly found in his home in Meredith, New Hampshire. That charge was dismissed in January 2020, on terms that he would remain on good behavior for two years.

Chung is due back in court on Jan. 7 for a pretrial conference.

On Monday, the day of his arrest, Chung posted the message, “Best day of my life,” from his personal Twitter account. He didn’t explain why.

(c)2021 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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