top of page

Nour and Samra's deliverance as a white-knuckle ride, complete with slick computer-graphics, George Acogny's pulsating score, and razor sharp editing by Dionisis Xenos and Vincent Cattaneo

Parky At the Pictures

19 Apr 2024

Reviews of Jeanne Du Barry; If Only I Could Hibernate; Grace; All You Need Is Death; Swede Caroline; and Beyond the Raging Sea

Produced under the auspices of the United Nations Refugee Agency, Marco Orsini's Beyond the Raging Sea seeks to raise awareness of the peril facing those striving to cross the Mediterranean by small boat. In order to do so, however, the film's focus falls on the attempt of an Egyptian duo to row across the Atlantic.

Each member of the Team O² crew was an accomplished athlete. Omar Nour had represented his country on the elite triathlon circuit, while Omar Samra was not only the first Egyptian to have climbed Mount Everest, but he had also skied to the North and South Poles. Neither, however, had much experience of boats, which was a distinct disadvantage in the 2017 Talisker Atlantic Challenge, which required them to row 3000 nautical miles from San Sebastian on La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Nelson's Dockyard English Harbour in Antigua.

As race co-ordinator Nikki Holter explains the testing nature of the race, the Omars recall their intense period of training and how they prepared for every eventuality as two novices and comparative strangers in the middle of an ocean renowned for its unpredictable conditions.

Samra's severe seasickness sapped their initial bullishness, as Nour was forced to undertake long shifts in order to keep them moving forward in a boat measuring 7.5m x 1.8m. He recalls the discomfort and disorientation of being permanently wet and exhausted. However, in the early morning of 22 December (eight days into the expedition), high waves and 45 knot winds caused the supposedly self-righting rig to capsize and Samr was swept overboard.

White line drawings against the black talking-head backgrounds illustrate their plight, as Samra describes being submerged and Nour recalls being upside down in a cabin filling with water. Compounding the problem is the failure of the emergency raft to inflate. But the Omars somehow manage to keep calm and focussed, as they think of ways to improve their situation and not just survive, but also continue with the race.

In the chaos and amidst high waves, Nour somehow manages to find a hand pump for the raft in a grab bag attached to the boat. While Samra undergoes a full-body cramp, Holter picks up the signal from the R2's GPS tracker and informs Nour's brother, Diaa, that there's been a problem. We hear from frantic family members, as the Omars describe the feeling of relief when a fixed-wing plane circles over them and they are sure they have been spotted.

However, it's Fahad Talkan, the Egyptian aptain of the Greek-German Kefalonia Vessel, who finds them after getting a message from Las Palmas. As the ocean is too wild, he can't launch a rib to collect them. So, Talkan manoeuvres his 35,000-ton ship so that his crew can throw ropes into the teeth of a gale. Samra manages to clamber up a broken rope ladder, with only the thought of his young daughter giving him the strength to keep going. Nour was still in the raft and felt he would be sucked into the propeller. But Talkan's skill at positioning his craft in worsening conditions over four hours and the determination of the crew meant that Nour was pulled up the 250ft side by rope and the Omars were able to bear-hug on being reunited on the deck.

Blurred footage of the nocturnal rescue makes this segment unbearably tense, even though Nour and Samra obviously survived to talk about it on camera. But rather than hear about their subsequent experiences, we cut away to meet Louay Alzouki and Mohammad Alhassan, who respectively fled from Syria and an unnamed African country and put themselves in the hands of people smugglers in order to reach Europe. Alzouki's testimony is intercut with images of his wife and the young son she was carrying when they crossed the Mediterranean.

Few details are provided into these hazardous journeys and they feel a bit tacked on, as the Omars declare their concern about the plight of refugees and how the world needs to respond because, even though they come from privileged backgrounds, they have a connection through their shared experience of sea rescue. This may be, but the leap feels too large within the context of a film that has presented Nour and Samra's deliverance as a white-knuckle ride, complete with slick computer-graphics, George Acogny's pulsating score, and razor sharp editing by Dionisis Xenos and Vincent Cattaneo.

The humanitarian message is vitally important and has been expressed with compassion and urgency in such documentaries as Gianfranco Rosi's Fire At Sea (2016), Ai Weiwei's Human Flow (2017), and Hasan Fazili's Midnight Traveller (2019). For all its good intentions, however, this nowhere near as effective in addressing the migrant crisis and Orsini might have been better leaving Nour and Samra to discuss the issue without the rather tokenistic contributions of Alzouki and Alhassan, even though their survival is every bit as miraculous and gratifying.

bottom of page