SYNOPSIS: From war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics, two young sisters embark on a harrowing journey as refugees, putting both their hearts and champion swimming skills to heroic use. Based on a true story.
A story of a refugee turns Olympian? No, this is not a make-believe tale from Hollywood but a true story of Yusra Mardini and her sister, Sara and how they trek across dangerous territories, overcame dire straits to be whom they are today in this inspiring movie from filmmaker Sally El Hosaini.
Sisters Yusra and Sara leads a normal teenage life in Syria except their father, Ezzat (Ali Suliman), an ex-swimmer himself is coaching her two daughters in swimming and preparing them for the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, their plans and ambitions are cut short by the impending civil war and the sisters together with their cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek) has to fled the war-torn country hoping to have a better life in Germany.
The Swimmers takes a somewhat polished documentary approach in telling the ordeals of the sisters as they have to first attempt to cross the sea to Lesbos on a worn-out boat in Turkey. Of course, things don’t go as plan and the boat full of refugees nearly drowned if not for the courageous actions and quick thinking of the sisters. It’s a heart-pounding sequence for sure despite knowing that they will survive in the end.
Certainly, their ordeal doesn’t end there as they face shady people along the way, mostly out to con the poor refugees out of their money as they promised safe transportation to their next destination except it’s just lies on top of lies. And we have yet mentioned the possibilities of being abused or raped by strangers especially when you are a young lady liked Yusra. The Swimmers brought to light on how fragile refugees are in real-life through the eyes of the Mardini sisters.
The screenplay written by Hosaini and Jack Thorne (Enola Holmes, The Aeronauts) is more of a survival story than an inspiring sports drama. Even though the third act focused heavily on Yusra’s training under German coach Sven (Matthias Schweighofer) and the revival of her Olympics dream and doubt, her journey as a refugee carries more weight and depth than her eventual Olympic bid.
Still, the movie is shot beautifully by cinematographer Christopher Ross. The acting is also top notch as the Mardini sisters are portrayed convincingly by real-life sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa as the former puts on a spunky performance as the rebellious elder sis and Nathalie is heartbreaking as the darling of her father and the one that has to fulfil the family’s wish of her being an Olympian.
While The Swimmers is a much more complex sports movie than the average underdog sports drama given the shocking and struggle story behind, the generic finale feels less engaging to the much superior first and second act.
Review by Linus Tee