THE SWIMMERS – Review by Lois Alter Mark

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At a time when the governors of Texas and Florida are callously using refugees as political pawns, The Swimmers is a must-watch movie that puts individual human faces to the staggering number of people escaping war-torn countries to find a safe place to live.

Almost seven million Syrians have become refugees since 2011 when civil war broke out, and The Swimmers, which is based on a true story, solidly focuses on two of them while never losing sight of the rest.

Sisters Yusra and Sara Mandrini (played by real-life sisters, Nathalie and Manal Issa) are typical teenagers living happily with their parents and little sister in a suburb of Damascus. Their father has been coaching their swimming for years and dreams of them representing Syria in the Olympics.

When the movie opens, in 2011, tensions are rising but the Arab Spring hasn’t impacted the family personally yet. Cut to four years later when another friend of the girls has been killed in a bombing and the sisters themselves are involved in a terrifying incident. After learning that people they know are fleeing to Germany, where they can then apply for a family reunion, they convince their father to let them go, accompanied by their cousin.

To say the journey isn’t easy is a ridiculous understatement. The sisters embark on a 10 hour bus ride, finally ending up on an overcrowded boat heading to Greece. When it’s about to sink under the weight, the girls heroically dive into the Aegean Sea and swim through the night, saving so many lives, including their own. Seeing the hundreds of life jackets strewn on the beach where they land is a powerful and emotional reminder that they’re not the only ones who have undergone this nightmare – which isn’t over yet.

As countless other refugees have experienced, they become the victims of scam artists trying to profit from their situation. It is only because of their swimming ability and the determination they’ve perfected over years of disciplined practice that they are able to overcome so many obstacles and Yusra finally fulfills her dream of participating in the Olympic Games in Rio.

Directed by Sally El Hosaini, who co-wrote the script with Jack Thorne, The Swimmers is a harrowing biopic that will haunt you as you watch the news. Any time you hear the word, “refugee,” you’ll be picturing Yusra and Sara. And that’s the way change happens.

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Lois Alter Mark

Lois Alter Mark is an award-winning writer who reviews films on Midlife at the Oasis. A former contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade, she also reviewed films for for many years. She is a member of San Diego Film Critics Society and tweets from @loisaltermark. She writes about travel for USA Today and Forbes.