Syrian sisters Sara and Yusra Mardini left their war-torn country by flight for Lebanon, and then were smuggled into Greece on an unreliable dinghy. What was supposed to be a quick getaway ride from Turkey to Greece, turned into a harrowing 3.5 hour swim as the boat couldn’t take the load of refugees, so the swimming sisters bravely jumped off with two others and hauled the vessel to safety.

Directed by Sally El Hosaini, 2022 Netflix movie ‘The Swimmers’ is based on the real life story of the Mardini sisters, and how one of them fulfilled their childhood dream of competing at the Olympics. Natalie Issa makes her acting debut in this film as protagonist Yusra, the younger Mardini sister who was seventeen when they battled for their lives in the Aegean sea. Manal Issa, who is also Natalie’s older sister in real life, plays her onscreen sibling Sara, a feisty young woman who is sick of losing her friends to bombings.

Natalie and Manal are fantastic in their performances as the Mardini sisters, their onscreen bond as siblings is poignant and relatable. Ahmed Malek plays Nizar, a cousin of the sisters, who agrees to leave Syria with them and promises to be by their side until they arrive safely in Germany. Matthias Schweighöfer delivers an understated performance as German swimming coach Sven, who helps Yusra fulfill her Olympic dreams after she makes it to Berlin. He is a crucial supporting character in the second-half, but never steals the girls’ thunder.

The cinematography was slightly choppy and the camera-work isn’t able to capture the sisters’ struggle at sea in the best way possible. The story-telling could’ve been sharper, despite having an already epic true story at their disposal, the makers aren’t able to elevate the tale to the kind of crescendo one would expect. However, it’s laudable how the writers honor millions refugees who weren’t as lucky as the Mardini sisters. Thousands try to flee their homes every day in search of a better life, many of who perish on their way. The sisters are aware their journey across the sea wasn’t unique in any way, but their success afterwards is. So the tale of two young woman making it on their own is undoubtedly inspirational.

It’s a 7.5/10 from me. Stream it on Netflix.

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