The Swimmers

Where I Watched It: Netflix

Audio Description Provided By: Post haste Digital

Written By: William McDonaugh

Narrated by: Tanzi Alexander

Yes, the film is about Syrian refugees, and it also looks a bit like none of the actors in the film are stars, so you can be forgiven for thinking this might perhaps be Syria’s entry (or some other country) into the Oscar race. While the characters do speak a lot in their native tongue for the first act of the film, this is a journey of a movie that takes its leads into other countries, where they speak English. I believe this was an acquisition for Netflix out of Sundance.

The Simmers tells the story of two sisters living in impossible situations in war torn Syria who risk everything at the hope and promise of a better life for themselves and their family. As it turns out, these girls are particularly good at swimming, a recurring theme in the film. In the first act, the film presents Syria not as some backwater third world nation, but a nation with citizens who are just as real as anyone else, and have the same hopes and dreams. They just constantly keep getting interrupted by war.

As this is based on a true story, eventually the girls escape their country and have a rough time as refugees, until they land a trainer, and one of them is given the opportunity to compete in the Olympics. It’s a bit like Rise, which debuted on Disney Plus earlier this year, but the stakes feel much higher.

The Swimmers is a bit of a mixed bag. on one hand, the film has some truly harrowing moments, especially one involving the girls testing their swimming abilities by jumping out of a boat and swimming along side it… out in the Mediterranean near Greece. The girls are also sexually harassed, both at home, and abroad. The entire film is basically about horrifying conditions and adversity, and the inspiring feeling you get seeing these girls overcome each obstacle.

What is odd, is that when the film loses the danger, and it becomes about the Olympic training, it loses steam, as it almost feels like an entirely different film. When you spend so much time showing us these seemingly insurmountable situations, and we slow down at the end, it somehow means the film ends with a whimper. in fact, despite the films generous runtime, being actually at the Olympics takes up the least amount of screentime. This big event, is almost an afterthought, which feels weird for any film about athletes.

The audio description here is fine. it has to do a lot of heavy lifting, as there is a decent percentage of this film not in the English language, meaning you hear Tanzi Alexander’s voice a lot. She also narrates all the characters, which always creates the interesting juxtaposition of having a female speaking English for a male character who is not.

I didn’t expect Netflix to give this film a budget to have a bunch of narrators on this, as its Oscar prospects are quite low. We got what Netflix delivers, which is decent audio description for a film that would be mostly unwatchable without it. Certainly, you’d have to skip the first act, which would make understanding the later parts of the film more challenging.

There’s some great stuff in The Swimmers, but it feels like it wants to be a lot of things, and cram a lot of story into a tiny runtime. The lack of focus creates a somewhat imbalance in terms of tone, though several key moments are some of the best I’ve experienced this year. This is a film with promise, from a director that has promise. Sometimes, it’s just good to experience a story told from a perspective far removed from your own.

Final Grade: B-

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