Sisters Yusra (Nathalie Issa) and Sara (Manal Issa) Mardini are training for international swimming competitions; their father (Ali Suliman) is their coach. He hopes that both will excel but realizes that Yusra probably is the one who could make the Olympic team.

As the civil war in Syria heats up, and the Russians begin bombing around Damascus, the Mardini family decides that Yusra, Sara, and their cousin Nizar (Ahmed Malek) should try to join other Syrians in Germany. First, they will need to travel from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos on a small boat. In the most harrowing scenes, the two sisters jump into the ocean to lessen the weight in the boat and swim alongside it to shore.

The sisters swimming beside the refugee boat

Director Sally El Hosaini steers away from making the two sisters into unappealing superheroes. It is not very often that we see two young girls incarnate kindness, compassion, and selflessness as they do during their long journey by land to Germany. That’s why we find ourselves cheering when Yusra competes in the Buenos Aires Olympics swimming in the specially formed “refugee” team.