The Swimmers Review – Strong Character Driven True Story Delivers

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The Swimmers, a Netflix original film, tells the true story of the Syrian refugee swimmers, Yusra and Sarah Mardini, and their journey as they fled their homeland, leaving behind their family, for a safer and new life.

The film begins at the local pool. Two girls, Yusra Mardini, played by Nathalie Issa, and Sarah Mardini, played by Manal Issa, are practicing holding their breath underwater, we see the seconds tick by on the stopwatch.


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Back at home, the girls are with their family for Yusra's birthday, we meet their father Ezzat Mardini, played by Ali Suliman, mother Mervat Mardini, played by Kinda Alloush, their cousin, Nizart, played by Ahmed Malek, and a house of extended relatives enjoying the day.

With the clouds of war edging closer, Sarah, older, is watching YouTube and understands the Arab Spring uprisings are moving toward her homeland. Over the next scenes, we see Yusra continue to grow as a swimmer and Sarah distraught over the invasion of Syria, she is living for today only. Her friends are dying, and the bombs are getting closer until one day during a swim meet a bomb hit the pool where Yusra is racing. Like a shark, facing sure death, the bomb slowly sinks directly in front of her, and by the grace of God, when it hits the bottom of the pool it fails to explode.

This, of course, solidifies the father's permission to allow the girls to flee Syria for Germany, and enlists their cousin as a chaperone. It is heartbreaking as they say goodbye. When they arrive in Istanbul, their refugee journey begins. Once out of their father's sight all the words of warning are gone also. They decide to cross the Aegean sea instead of the longer landlocked path.


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Human traffickers capitalizing on the war herd the people into buses, then leave them for days near the ocean, and when they return, they bring a raft, patched and in some places double patched, along with a motor. Soon the overcrowded raft, with children and infants was stuck, taking on water in the middle of the sea with no land in sight.

Sarah decided to jump first into the sea, followed by Yusra, and two others. The girls were professional swimmers who had medaled for their country and with ropes tied around their waist they swan, in rough seas for three hours, while the others prayed. As morning broke across the land, the refugees spotted land in the distance.

As difficult as this leg of the journey was, it was only the beginning. The remainder of the journey is as difficult, with many trying to help and others taking advantage of the vulnerable. As they arrived in Germany, who welcomed them without limits or restrictions, they were overwhelmed by the volume of need.


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This sets up the third act. Yursa, who remained dedicated to her Olympic dream became to train, which also allowed her to channel the frustration of the bureaucracy. Soon she went to a swim club, and we meet Sven, played by Matthias Schweighofer. Yursa refuses to be told no, and soon Sven has sponsored them and moved them into a room at the pool club, usually reserved for visiting swim teams.

One day he explains the Olympic committee is setting up a Refugee Team, of displaced Athletes. She looks at him and explains she doesn't want charity she wants to be on the Olympic team because of her skill. At 17, she believes opportunity knocks every day. This sets up the final act.


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The Swimmers, a true triumph over circumstance and tragedy story, is an emotional roller coaster ride as we experience the horrors of war, the plight and path of the refugees, the exploitation of the vulnerable and finally hope.

The story is good, and the plight of the refugees is heartbreaking, especially in hindsight knowing of the many who drowned, and the traffickers who directly contributed to the deaths of thousands and have not been held accountable. That's possibly the reason the refugee journey scenes became a bit tedious.

Even with that, The Swimmers delivers an uplifting message of hope, dedicated, and triumph.

The Swimmers is streaming on Netflix.

Country: U.S.

Language: Syrian, English with English subtitles.

Runtime: 137minutes.

Director: Sally El Hosaini.

Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tim Cole, Ali Jaafar.

Writer: Jack Thorne, Sally El Hosaini.

Executive Producers  Stephen Daldry, Katherine Pomfret, Tilly Coulson

Cast:  Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ahmed Malek, James Krishna Floyd, Nahel Tzegai, Kinda Alloush, Ali Suliman.

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