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Release Date: 11/23/22 [Netflix]
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport

Studio: Netflix

"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." 


Right from the opening scenes, The Swimmers draws the viewer in with luminous, vibrant energy and direction by BAFTA winner Sally El Hosaini. 


Life in Damascus, Syria starts out pretty normal for lively teen sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini, played by real-life sisters Natalie and Manal Issa. We can instantly relate to the girls because, at first, their lives don’t seem all that different from teen life anywhere. We see family mealtimes and parental pressure interspersed with school, swim practice and fun with friends. 


But then, war hits too close to home. That’s when the sisters make the incredibly difficult decision to leave family, home and country in order to seek asylum – and a chance for Yusra to continue competitive swimming with the Olympics as her goal – in Europe.


The sisters’ refugee journey from that point on is both harrowing and heartbreaking. The film is based on a true story, so I knew they both would make it, but there are still moments that fill the viewer with despair. The journey seems utterly impossible with doom and heartbreak seeming to wait around every corner. 


The Swimmers filled me with empathy for the world’s refugees and what they must go through to reach asylum. The most heartbreaking part is that even once they are past the worst of the refugee journey, there are no homes or families waiting with open arms – they have to start over from zero with next to nothing. They give up so much and their stories simply are not told enough.


For the Mardini sisters, making it through the perilous journey from Syria to Berlin was just the beginning of their epic struggles. Their life-or-death swim across the Aegean sea, to help alleviate overcrowding in a tiny lifeboat that might have otherwise capsized and killed dozens of people, is a metaphor for their lives now.


The world seems to have no place for refugees. Yusra fought and worked hard to be able to swim for a competitive team in Berlin and ultimately qualify for the Olympics – but then finds she is eligible only for the refugee team. Struggling with that new part of her identity is completely understandable and relatable. 


Even if you’re not interested in Olympic swimming or world events, The Swimmers is a magnificently crafted story with something for everyone. The Mardini sisters are strong, brave and full of hope. Their story is a must-watch.


Be sure to stick around for the credits which give you an update on where the Mardinis are today.

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