An odyssey: Two Syrian sisters’ journey with hope

(Photos: Twitter)
Sarah and Yusra Mardini have made headlines before. From their leap into the Aegean Sea in hopes of rescuing their dinghy loaded with asylum seekers crossing to Europe to their journey to the Olympics, the Syrian sisters’ story is nothing short of inspiring.اضافة اعلان

Directed by Sally El-Hosaini, “The Swimmers” examines the life of the two swimmers in a stunning sequence of their journey towards safety in Germany.

The film was made available on Netflix on November 23 and is based on a true story. It presents raw performances from real-life sisters Nathalie Issa (Yusra) and Manal Issa (Sarah) on the complexities of family dynamics, dreams, and opportunities during war.

With breathtaking accuracy, the film displays smiles amidst destruction, the innocence of sisterhood, and shared hope despite harsh circumstances. The director was able to collaborate with Yusra and Sarah to be as faithful as possible to their story, while staging some fictitious passages. In a short two hours and 14 minutes, we are continuously taken by surprise by the series of very real events that have shaped the lives of the Mardini sisters.

Set starting in 2015, when the war in Syria had been raging on for four years, the film shows the Mardini sisters practicing swimming with their father. Due to a series of war-caused deaths — and after a bomb landed in the Olympic pool in Damascus — the sisters, pushed largely by Sarah, decide to leave the country with just 10,000 euros, scrimped by their now indebted father and their DJ cousin.

The money becomes a necessity to pay some bogus smugglers, but what becomes essential to saving both their lives and the lives of others is their swimming ability.

The journey is gut-wrenching from the start. Produced largely in English – with Arabic weaved in here and there — there is a dedication to understanding laced into the film’s most intimate scenes. Migrants are shown through a human lens otherwise lost amongst headlines and policies. Stories, meetings, and hardships bring a true sense of solidarity while making the deadly crossing into Europe on a faulty dinghy.

A life and death match
The movie presents a real-world tour before arriving in Berlin. Bypassing all-inclusive hotels and resorts, but miraculously avoiding assaults and police captures, the characters are put to the true test of survival, and bystanders are not always kind.

Devastation reigns when the sisters realize that surviving a three-hour swim in an uncertain sea poses just the start of their journey. From the back of one truck to another, followed by a third, then a bus, we are left wondering: Is this the right stage, or will the sisters return to square one? And while “The Swimmers” remains conservative in its level of harshness, it never shies from revealing the unending path of migrants, their resistance and their resilience, and our complicit passivity.

There is an unclear cloud masking the movie — a question of who or what awaits the migrants next. A friend, an enemy, someone indifferent, violent, or welcoming? But as they reach Germany, a kind German swimming coach (Matthias Schweighöfer as Sven) signals the end of an exhausting life-and-death match and the start of a 200m butterfly.

After extensive training, Yusra participated in the Rio Olympics in 2016 as part of a team of 10 refugee athletes.

Reality is less sweet
Although Yusra won her series of 100m butterflies, she did not manage to reach the semifinals. However, while Yusra continues swimming, her sister Sarah meets a grimmer reality. Since reaching Germany, Sarah was determined to return to Greece to become a volunteer to help those making the trip she once endured.

But on August 21, 2018, while on a mission on the island of Lesbos, she was arrested with her German colleague Sean Binder by the authorities. As reported by L’Orient Le Jour in February 2022, she is accused of “espionage, human trafficking, money laundering, fraud, and belonging to a criminal organization”, and risks up to 25 years in prison.

After three months of preventive detention, Sarah and Binder were released on bail.

According to the latest news, Sarah returned to Berlin awaiting her trial but would not be able to attend her hearing, being “subject to a judicial ban on entering Greek territory”.

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