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TIFF 2022 Review: The Swimmers

Two sisters flee Syria with their cousin to Europe with hopes of being reunited with their family and achieving aspirations to participate in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Life is a party for two teenage sisters in Syria who excel at swimming under the tutelage of their father.  But when what seems to be a distant civil war intrudes into their lives with a bomb literally falling into a pool during a swimming competition, a plan is orchestrated for the two siblings and their chaperon cousin to use human traffickers to seek asylum in Germany.  However, the path to freedom is as treacherous as the fighting being left behind as those profiting from human misery care little for safety.

Check out all of our TIFF coverageVibrant colours and a music soundtrack that seems out of an MTV production indicate that this not going to be a typical portrayal of the civil war in Syria.  There is a heavy reliance on slow motion and sound abstractions to emulate what life is like in the water and quick cutting to make for kinetic swimming sequences.  The most compelling moments are when the bomb falls into the pool during a swimming meet which is an unexpected turn of events and when the siblings take to the water again to lessen the weight of a sinking boat filled with refugees.

I cannot help but feel that the flashy filmmaking style exhibited by Sali El Hosaini undercuts her ability to dramatize the refugee crisis that is unfolding in a profound way.  There seems to be a lost opportunity to explore how the refugee team came to be in the Olympics which can play into the call for meaningful world political action rather than finding means to profit from human tragedies.  And there is the WTF revelation in the postscript which seems like major story thread that could have been explored though one could argue that the events depicted are motivation enough.

The 47th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8-18, 2022, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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