Film Review: The Swimmers is a look at resilience and sisterhood

"Nathalie and Manal Issa – real-life sisters – are terrific in the lead roles, bickering and squabbling as the dependable Yusra and the headstrong Sara take turns to push one another onwards when all seems lost"
Film Review: The Swimmers is a look at resilience and sisterhood

The Swimmers. (L to R) Nathalie Issa as Yusra Mardini, Manal Issa as Sara Mardini in The Swimmers. Cr. Laura Radford/Netflix © 2022

  • The Swimmers
  • ★★★★☆

Based on a true story, The Swimmers (12A) dramatizes the lives of sisters Yusra (Nathalie Issa) and Sara Mardini (Manal Issa), who were Olympic swimming hopefuls when they fled war-torn Syria in 2015, bound for Germany via Turkey and the Balkans. 

At least, that was the plan: Sally El Hosaini’s film documents the brutal realities of the refugee experience as Yusra and Sara stumble from one life-threatening peril to another, their epic trek a litany of abuse, betrayal and violence at the hands of people-traffickers, border guards and potential rapists. 

It’s not an entirely bleak experience: even as Yusra, especially, succumbs to depression and fatalism, the friends they meet sustain one another with quiet acts of heroism and courage, and especially during the truly horrific sea-crossing on a boat that begins to sink almost as soon as it loses sight of the shore, and when we realise the true power of the film’s title. 

Nathalie and Manal Issa – real-life sisters – are terrific in the lead roles, bickering and squabbling as the dependable Yusra and the headstrong Sara take turns to push one another onwards when all seems lost, although it’s Manal Issa, playing the less accomplished of the swimming siblings, who steals the show with a performance that imperceptibly converts Sara’s wilful flouting of authority into an implacable will to survive. (Netflix)

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