‘The Swimmers’ Review: A Crowdpleasing Drama of Struggle, Sisterhood and Olympic Dreams

Both adversity and triumph are in considerable provide in Sally El Hosaini’s The Swimmers, an undeniably highly effective if inescapably episodic drama chronicling the harrowing, real-life flight taken by a pair of sisters from war-ravaged Syria to the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Ushering within the first business-as-usual version of the Toronto International Film Festival since 2019, the movie’s world premiere ought to set the stage for a buoyant response forward of its Nov. 23 Netflix bow — notably for the performances of the siblings solid as Olympics hopeful Yusra Mardini and her older sister Sara.

The Swimmers

The Bottom Line

A potent if uneven refugee drama.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala Presentations)
Release date: Wednesday Nov. 23
Cast: Nathalie Issa, Manal Issa, Matthias Schweighofer, Ahmed Malek
Director: Sally El Hosaini
Screenwriters: Jack Thorne and Sally El Hosaini

2 hours 14 minutes

Prior to the outbreak of civil warfare in Syria, the rebellious Sara (Manal Issa) and her studious youthful sister Yusra (Nathalie Issa) have been residing the lifetime of common youngsters in sun-drenched, suburban Damascus when not swimming competitively below the tutelage of their coach father (Ali Suliman).

But when the rising violence hits too near house, the sisters, within the firm of their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek), embark on a dangerous journey from Damascus to Berlin by way of Istanbul, Lesbos and Budapest. The journey is fraught with shady smugglers and a tangle of bureaucratic pink tape that threatens a reunion with the remainder of their members of the family whereas awaiting approval of their very own asylum.

Just as her Olympic desires would seem like unattainable, Yusra meets up with a sympathetic German swim coach (Matthias Schweighofer), who finally convinces her to compete in a newly-formed refugee staff at Rio in lieu of representing Syria

With simply her second function, following 2012’s My Brother the Devil, Welsh-Egyptian filmmaker El Hosaini demonstrates a robust command over imagery that’s as poetic as it’s potent. In her succesful fingers and people of her cinematographer Christopher Ross, sequences involving an as-yet-undetonated bomb slowly drifting towards the underside of a swimming pool or a gaggle of refugees traversing a veritable sea of orange and yellow life vests belonging to all those that have arrived earlier than them pack a visceral, surreal punch.

Strong, too, is the unbreakable sisterly bond fantastically and tenderly depicted within the performances of Lebanese actors Manal and Nathalie Issa, which endures regardless of their distinctly particular person personalities and needs.

But the script, penned by El Hosaini and Jack Thorne (Wonder) and primarily based on Yusra’s 2018 autobiography, Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, additionally sees match to throw within the kind of standard-issue, crowd-rousing victory finale (full with composer Steven Price’s compulsory fanfares) that audiences have come to anticipate. Considering all that the siblings have overcome main as much as that time, the second can’t assist however really feel a bit anti-climactic. Especially when these Olympics coaching sequences really feel squeezed for time in comparison with the remainder of the movie’s deliberate, considerate pacing.

In the case of Yusra and Sara Mardini’s exceptional survival story, their empowering journey finally proves extra rewarding than the traditional vacation spot.

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