There has never been a sports drama with this level of adversity. Set against a background of war-torn Syria, “The Swimmers,” now streaming on Netflix, tells the incredible and true story of Yusra and Sara Mardini, sisters who fled Damascus to find a new life and a chance at competing in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
The harrowing story of survival, that includes a dangerous voyage in a small lifeboat packed with refugees across the Mediterranean Sea, is inspiring, even if it gives into to its more conventional nature in the third act.
The story begins with a tightly knit family living in Damascus as the Syrian civil war brews around them. Father Ezzat (Ali Suliman), once a professional swimmer, has passed his love of the sport to his daughters Sara (Manal Issa) and Yusra (Nathalie Issa). Both have talent, but Yusra has the drive to be a champion. Both sisters dream of competing in the Olympics, but the ever-escalating war makes that goal unattainable.
After a bomb lands too-close-for-comfort, the sisters make the difficult decision to leave behind the only life they’ve ever known and seek asylum in Germany. Accompanied by their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek) they begin a perilous journey that will hopefully lead to the Olympics.
The sisters’ story is, by turns, heartwarming, suspenseful and traumatic. It becomes more of a traditional sports movie, à la “Rocky,” near the end, but until that point director Sally El-Hosaini tells the true story of resilience with sensitivity and visual aplomb.
Unforgettable shots of a bomb landing in a swimming pool or a beach, littered with tens-of-thousands of discarded lifejackets left behind by migrants on their way to a new future, speak loudly to a worldwide refugee crisis and are worth the price of admission.