A Gripping True Story of Remarkable Syrian Sisters

The Swimmers tells the harrowing and incredibly moving true story of Syrian refugee sisters. Yusra and Sara Mardini fled war torn Damascus for a chance at an impossible dream. The daughters of a swimmer forced to abandon his competitive career saw no future in their ravaged homeland. They risked mortal peril for hope at asylum in Germany. Their cherished dream to swim in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. And more importantly, to secure legal immigrant status for their beloved family left behind. The dangerous odyssey meant crossing the Aegean Sea and trekking through hostile countries at the mercy of ruthless smugglers. They embodied the desperate plight of millions who faced death for the possibility of a better life.


In a 2011 Damascus suburb, Sara (Manal Issa) pokes her younger sister while they hold their breaths in a community pool. Yusra (Nathalie Issa) chides Sara for playing while training. Their father and coach, Ezzat (Ali Suliman), takes every lesson seriously. Later that day at Yusra’s birthday party, he tells family and friends of his immense pride at having such strong daughters. The Mardini family is a picture of happiness. Their mother, Mervat (Kinda Alloush), yells at the girls for watching YouTube Videos of the blossoming Arab Spring revolts.

Syria Becomes Embroiled in Civil War

Four years later, the girls dance on a rooftop party while their cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek), dee-jays. Laughter turns somber as they watch rockets explode on the outskirts of the city. Syria is now fully embroiled in a brutal civil war. The outgoing and irrepressible Sara chafes at leering soldiers. Yusra focuses completely on her training. They learn that another friend has been killed. Sara approaches her father with a shocking idea. Yusra is underage. If they can make it to Germany, the family reunion plan will allow them all to leave Syria. Nizar will accompany them on the voyage. It is the only way that Yusra will ever realize her Olympic ambitions.

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Ezzat scoffs at the thought of letting his daughters leave. That calculus changes when the pool is bombed during a competition. Ezzat borrows all the money he can to facilitate the trip. Sara, Yusra, and Nizar leave their tearful family for a flight to Istanbul. The airline warns that anyone stealing lifejackets will be prosecuted. They arrive excitedly to an uncertain situation. The girls could never have anticipated the terrifying and arduous journey that lie ahead.

From Normalcy to Despair


Director/co-writer Sally El-Hosaini (My Brother the Devil) depicts the awful transition from normalcy to despair. Yusra and Sara were regular teens with athletic promise. Youthful frivolity meant sneaking out with friends. Swimming for your life while an overcrowded boat threatens to sink was unthinkable. Running from police, begging for water, huddling together with other immigrants for shelter became a daily occurrence. No one cared where they came from or why. They were unwanted invaders whose suffering and lives meant nothing. Smugglers were their only recourse to continue forward. Even worse, being young and attractive made them targets for sexual violence. These scenes are heartbreaking. Fragility does not survive a cruel world. The girls’ ironclad bond, at times frayed by the magnitude of tremendous burden, carries them through where others sadly could not.

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The Swimmers does not revel in grief. The film shines a positive light out of darkness. Germany granted asylum to millions of Syrians. Yusra, Sara, and Nizar were treated kindly in their refugee camps. This allowed the girls to pursue the goal they had chased from the start. Survivors guilt tears into Yusra and Sara, but they come to correct conclusion. They had to live, fight, and prosper. The sacrifice was too great to give up. Yusra’s third act progression to the Olympics is powerfully emotional. You can’t help but cheer for these amazing sisters.

The Swimmers has artistic elements that capture the lingering effects of war. El-Hosaini shows the ongoing impact of trauma with a masterful touch. Refugees, especially children, need psychological help to process and heal from devastation. Yusra and Sara found solace in each other and the care of steadfast friends. Their mission to help those displaced continues at great personal costs. Nathalie and Manal Issa, real-life sisters, are sublime in their portrayal here.

The Swimmers is a production of Working Title Films. It is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

You can view the original article HERE.

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