The Swimmers Parent Guide
An incredibly moving and powerful story of courage, grit, and shared humanity, this film is highly recommended for teens and adults.
Parent Movie Review
Sara and Yusra Mardini (played by Manal and Nathalie Issa) have a comfortable life in Damascus, Syria’s capital city. The champion swimmers train with their father, goof around at the community pool, spend time with their young sister, enjoy big get-togethers with their boisterous extended family, and dance the night away at a local club. Then the bombs start falling…
It’s 2011 and Syria’s version of the “Arab Spring” is met with a brutal military response from the government. As the country disintegrates into civil war, the Mardinis face a stark choice. They can remain in Damascus and hope bombs miss their home. Or the older girls can make the dangerous trek to Germany as refugees. Yusra is still a minor, and under German refugee law, she qualifies for asylum and the ability to apply for family reunification. When a mortar attack hits the pool during a swim meet, the decision is made. The girls have no future in Syria, so the girls and their cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek), embark on a perilous trek across Europe.
The journey begins by plane to Turkey, followed by a bus trip to the coast, and then a boat ride to Greece. The refugees are horrified to discover that the boat that is supposed to take them across the Aegean Sea is a heavily patched rubber dinghy. Designed for six, the boat is overloaded with twenty refugees. When the dinghy starts to fill with water, the Mardini sisters come to the rescue, their aquatic skills saving the lives of their fellow passengers.
The Swimmers is one of the most emotionally intense movies I have ever seen. In fact, I had to take a break partway through to stop crying and collect myself. That isn’t meant as a deterrent: this is an excellent film and by retelling a riveting true story, it depicts the harrowing experiences and raw courage of so many of the millions of people desperately seeking asylum. I started crying when the girls’ parents had to decide which of the two terrible options they should choose. As a parent myself, I can’t imagine the anguish of sending teenagers off on a quest to save their families at such tremendous risk. I kept crying as the girls demonstrated their heroism at sea and as they faced cruelty and indifference across Europe. Thankfully, the angst lets up when the sisters gain asylum in Germany and can rebuild their lives – which for Yusra means focusing on her Olympic dreams.
Not surprisingly, a film so loaded with traumatic experiences comes with some negative content. There is an attempted sexual assault (without nudity), some distant war-related violence, and a comparatively small amount of profanity (including a single sexual expletive). For teen audiences, the positive elements of the film outweigh the content issues. This is a movie that fosters empathy for those who suffer and which can encourage entitled teenagers to take a good look at the hardships faced by those born in more troubled circumstances. The Swimmers also demonstrates that courage doesn’t come with superpowers and a spandex suit: courage is born from sacrifice, compassion, endurance, and grit.
Movies like this do their best to tell us who refugees are. Our response to their plight tells us who we are.Directed by Sally El Hosaini. Starring Matthias Schweighöfer, Ali Suliman, James Krishna Floyd. Running time: 134 minutes. Theatrical release November 23, 2022. Updated November 22, 2022
Watch the trailer for The Swimmers
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Swimmers rated PG-13? The Swimmers is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material, some violence including sexual assault, and language.
Violence: Bombs are heard falling and smoke is seen in the distance. Armed soldiers demand ID from bus passengers. A soldier gropes women’s breasts as he “frisks” them for security threats. Bomb follows on sports facility: ceiling falls in leaving broken glass in the pool. People are menaced by dogs. There is an attempted sexual assault with physical resistance. There is a dream sequence of drowning.
Sexual Content: A man tries to rape a woman: she fights back as does another woman.
Profanity: The movie contains a smattering of profanity, including a sexual expletive, three scatological curses, an anatomical expression, and a handful of terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: People are shown holding alcohol at a nightclub. Age cannot be determined. A man smokes a hookah. Adults are occasionally seen smoking cigarettes.
Page last updated November 22, 2022
The Swimmers Parents' Guide
Why did the Mardinis allow Sara and Yusra to make the dangerous trip to Germany? Do you think they made the right choice? What would you have chosen if you were the parents or the daughters in this family?
You can learn about the real life experiences of Sara and Yusra Mardini in the articles below:
The Guardian: “We were taught to be winners”: refugee turned Olympian Yusra Mardini on the Netflix drama of her life
Vogue UK: Breaking the Surface: An Audience with the Mardini Sisters & Their Onscreen Counterparts in The Swimmers
For more information about the global refugee crisis you can read the following articles:
Amnesty International: The World’s Refugees in Numbers
Concern: The 10 Largest Refugee Crises to Follow in 2022
Does your country host large refugee populations? What is your country’s policy about accepting refugees? Do you agree with it? Are there groups in your community that provide assistance to refugees?
Pew Research Center: Canada now leads the world in refugee resettlement, surpassing the US
Global Citizen: 5 of the Most Ridiculous Refugee Policies in the World
Germany has been the world leader in accepting Syrian refugees. For more information about their efforts, you can click on these links:
The Guardian: How Angela Merkel’s great migrant gamble paid off
The Atlantic: How Germany Overcame the Refugee Crisis
The Borgen Project: Difficulties Faced by Syrian Refugees in Germany
Background on the Syrian Civil War can be found here:
BBC: Why has the Syrian war lasted 11 years?
CNN: Syrian Civil War Fast Facts
Council on Foreign Relations: Syria’s Civil War: The Descent Into Horror
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Yusra Mardini’s memoir, entitled Butterfly From Refugee to Olympian – My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph is available for those who want more information about the sisters’ experiences.
Kelly Spence’s Yusra Mardini: Refugee Hero and Olympic Hero is geared at younger readers.
Related home video titles:
There are a number of solid films that can help your family understand the challenges faced by refugees. In The Good Lie, three Sudanese refugees escape a savage war and find refuge in America – but the conflict casts long shadows. Syrian refugees make a new home in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies in Jasmine Road. In a true story, Peace by Chocolate follows the Hadhad family, who arrive in a small Canadian maritime town, and restart their chocolate making business. Using an animated documentary format, Flee tells the true story of Amin Mawabi as the Taliban’s brutality forces him to run from Afghanistan and seek safety in Europe. If you’re trying to find a refugee story that can be shown to older kids, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit might fit the bill. In this movie, the Kemper family are forced to leave Germany when Hitler comes to power, traveling to Switzerland, France, and finally England before they find a permanent home. This German film is suitable for kids, but it does have subtitles, so assess your children’s reading abilities ahead of time.
Inspiring sports films are a popular genre, but few of them are set in the developing world. Skater World is a fictional story with real life inspiration that shows how skateboarding changes the lives of kids in an Indian village.