The True Story of Syrian Sisters’ Journey to the Olympics – Deadline

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Netflix has a number of high-profile films coming to the Toronto Film Festival, as do Venice and Telluride, but a less heralded title without instantly recognizable star names has been chosen to open the festival tonight, and swimmers could prove to be a surprise winner for the streamer when it debuts this fall. It certainly reverses the curse of some of TIFF’s less successful opening nights.

Deadline

Seemingly about a triumphant appearance at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, swimmers is truly a moving and suspenseful story about the plight of refugees seeking a better life through thick and thin. The power of this film is that it turns out to be an unlikely sports saga about a couple of Syrian sisters who show remarkable swimming skills at school and are so impressive they could be Olympic caliber. But before you wonder if it’s gonna turn into a waterlog Rocky, it is above all the story of two young people who have no real chance of escaping from a war-torn Damascus where the daily frightening bombings of the Russians are destroying hope everywhere, and it turns out to be a an amazing story of refugees struggling to find their way to freedom, an epic immigration saga made all the more powerful for being 100% true.

Toronto Film Festival Photo Gallery

Sara (Manal Issa) and Yusra (Nathalie Issa) Mardini try to live as normal a life as children can in a war-torn country, their family, including mother Mervat (Kinda Aloush) and father Ezzat (Ali Suliman ) is loving and their father, a former swimmer, serves as their coach. They have natural talent but over the years Sara loses interest in what is happening in their country, while Yusra still has Olympic dreams. After a bomb nearly kills them while in a swimming pool, their father reluctantly agrees to let them emigrate to Germany before Yusra turns 18 – an important point as it would eventually allow them to regain their family in a safer environment. It’s off, but Ezzat had one condition: that their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek) accompany them on this trying journey. It starts with their ability to get flights to Istanbul via Beirut with tourist visas, as well as shrewd shuffling and dealing from the colorful Nizar, and eventually they meet other refugees from various countries and bond with them before to embark on one of the most perilous parts of their adventure, crossing the ocean in an ill-equipped raft with 20 other people. This raft sinks, an event where their swimming skills really come in handy, but it’s easy for everyone, including their new friends.

All of this leads to one of the film’s most visually striking scenes: the sight of a mountain of hundreds of life jackets covering the coastline of Lesbos once they make landfall, life jackets that represent the lucky ones who have made the same crossing and lived to tell about it. . It is a picture worth a thousand words in what it poignantly says about the plight of refugees.

Closer escapes and difficult journeys eventually lead them to Berlin, where they must stay in a refugee shelter with six other women in order to hopefully gain asylum. They are ordered not to leave, but Yusra, eager to get back into the pool, finds a local swim club where she meets Sven (German superstar Matthias Schweighofer), the coach, who initially rebuffs their desire to help them. to join his swim team. . But she wins when he gives in and sees the talents she has. Complications arise between the sisters as Yursa is once again in the spotlight, but her 18th birthday comes and goes, meaning the family can only be reunited if those left behind in Syria embark on the same deadly journey. As the Olympics approach, Sven learns that a refugee team is allowed to compete. Yusra balks, wanting to compete for her own country instead, but ends up taking the chance.

Sara and Yursa Mardini
ABC News

Director Sally El Hosaini collaborated with Jack Thorne on the 2018 adaptation of Yursa’s autobiography, Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian—My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph, and turned the film into a moving story of perseverance and female emancipation, particularly highlighting Arab women who rarely get this kind of opportunity in a major film. The director eschews all the usual movie cliches in the genre overflowing with inspirational sports movies without rewriting the rules but keeping it somewhat fresh. Swimming has never been at the top of Hollywood’s list, probably since the days when Olympic champion Esther Williams became a star at MGM in the 1940s and 1950s. swimmers, despite his title. This is an exciting adventure of two women, and indeed a number of others, who have challenged their own circumstances and come out on top. The film does not tiptoe about the conflicts between them, the sibling rivalry, the ups and downs, but above all it remains a kind of love story within the family, an older sister and a younger sister much like Serena and Venus in tennis when you think about it; ironically, it comes just a year after their story hit the screens King Richard. El Hosaini also focuses on the raw ambition that makes a champion, the inner drive to succeed, and it’s a quirk of fate that it took a war to drive them out and bring them to a place where they could actually pursue. their dreams realistically, the two sisters take a different path but nevertheless come together as they always have.

Casting director Shaheen Baig deserves a shoutout for finding such attractive actors to put in front of El Hosaini to work in this movie. Especially the Issa sisters who were cast as Yusra and Sara. They are excellent and completely convincing in and out of the water. The rest of the cast is well cast, especially Nahel Tzigai who plays Shada, a refugee who joins them on their journey and also has a newborn baby in tow. Schweighofer shows why he’s a star, completely engaging as Sven.

El Hosaini is definitely going far. As a director, she shows complete mastery behind the camera, and her own Arab background no doubt inspired her to make that as authentic as possible. swimmers is a movie and a story you won’t soon forget.

Producers are Working Title veterans Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, along with Tim Cole and Ali Jaafar. Director Stephen Daldry is among the executive producers. The technical credits are top-notch, including the work of cinematographer Christopher Ross and editor Ian Kitching. Steven Price’s score soars.


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