Swim for your life!

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Swim for your life!
The Swimmers, starring Lebanese actresses and real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa portraying two sisters as well, keeps hopes and dreams afloat with its narrative.
Photo from netflix.com

Not all races are worth fighting for. But some are worth living for, especially when the race is for your life and the lives of your loved ones. You will most likely swim the extra mile. Or miles. But what is beyond noble is when you swim the extra mile for strangers.

The inspiring true-to-life story of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini will be good weekend watching for you on Netflix. The story of two Syrian sisters training for international swimming competitions, swimming their way, literally, to what they hope will be the land of their hopes and dreams, may be your own life vest when you’re struggling to stay afloat in life.

Real-life sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa star in The Swimmers, which premiered on Netflix last week and reportedly received a four-minute standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival. Directed by Sally El Hosaini from a screenplay that she co-wrote with Jack Thorne, the movie tells the unvarnished true story of the Mardini sisters’ perilous journey from Syria to Germany. They traveled by air, land and sea. They walked, they ran, they swam. They stayed in decrepit inns, trailer homes, tents, under the trees, under the stars.

Nathalie plays the younger sister Yusra, the more determined competitor; while Manal portrays Sara, the purposeful one. Trivia: the Issa sisters reportedly did not know how to swim before the movie, but trained for it till they swam like fish. Another life-vest there: You can learn to be anything if you set your heart, mind, arms and legs to it. (In fact, the life vest is an icon of the movie.)

The Issa sisters playing the Mardini sisters ensured that the lead stars’ acting would be natural. They know by heart the dynamics and complexities of sisterhood. There is love, rivalry, envy, protectiveness. But at the end of the day, blood is always thicker than water, even seawater.

If you have no idea at all about the gravity of the refugee problem because of the bubble we’ve lived in, before, during and after COVID, this movie will draw the curtains from your eyes. Some refugees are just like you and me — educated, used to a comfortable life, active on social media. They are refugees with smartphones.

The Mardini sisters never experienced want before they escaped. There was always food on the table. Birthday parties. But like many know, freedom is just as coveted as food on the table.

At one leg of their journey to freedom, the sisters find themselves in an overloaded dinghy on the Aegean Sea. After bobbing up and down on the choppy waters, the dinghy’s engine loses its power.

Do the sisters swim to shore and leave the others behind? Do they ever get to compete in the Olympics, as was their father’s dream? Does the instinct for survival make them lose their humanity? Do they ever get reunited with their family? This is for you to find out.

The Swimmers takes you to the depths of human struggles — but also shows you that reality has many lifelines to tow you back to the surface. Just hang in there.

Cayabyab headlines ‘Christmas at The Pen’ It’s back!

“We all feel like it’s a new beginning,” says Masahisa Oba, The Peninsula Manila general manager.

The Peninsula Manila ushers in the holiday season with the return on Dec. 4 of “Christmas Concert at The Pen,” featuring the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of National Artist for Music Maestro Ryan  Cayabyab, the talents of Jade Rubis Riccio, Poppert Bernadas, Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois and Menchu Lauchengco Yulo.

Cayabyab says this year’s concert will be “a love song to music and musicians” after two years of lockdown.

After a hiatus of two years, one of Metro Manila’s most enduring holiday traditions — The Peninsula Manila’s “Christmas Concert at The Pen” — will warm hearts anew on Sunday, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The Pen Lobby will once again resound with the joyous sounds of Christmas as it is transformed into a grand concert hall.

The famed “Christmas Concert at The Pen” concert — now in its 37th season — has always been regarded as The Peninsula Manila’s Christmas gift to the community.

Wielding the baton and directing the much-loved musical extravaganza for the very first time in its long history is Cayabyab, who will be teaming with the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO). Coincidentally, the MSO was the first orchestra to play at the annual holiday concert when it debuted in 1983 with Lucio San Pedro, who would later also become a National Artist for Music, conducting.

The featured choir this year is the critically-acclaimed French children’s choir — Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois — whose performance is one of the highlights of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of Filipino-French diplomatic relations.

Another first is the guest appearance of Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, widely considered to be the “first lady” of Philippine musical theater. She will be the host of this year’s concert.

Pasko na! *

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