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‘Last Swim’ review: Dir. Sasha Nathwani [Berlinale]

Making his feature directorial debut with Last Swim is Sasha Nathwani, and this impressive work, taking place during the course of one pivotal day and night in the lives of a group of graduating high school students in contemporary London, engrosses throughout.

Credit: © Caviar, Pablo & Zeus, via Berlinale press

The story is told from the point of view of straight-A student, Ziba (Deba Hekmat), an Iranian girl living in the capital who we learn, very early on in the film, has been seriously ill over the summer. She’s about to discover how she’s done in her A-level exams, the tests Brits take in their last year of school to enable them to enter university. Ziba needn’t worry; she’s an ace student, which is evident in a flashback to an earlier meeting with a teacher at the start of the film, easily answering a challenging astro physics question (something about The Hubble Constant).

We meet her on a balmy August day, every second of it planned out hour-by-hour, the entirety of it to be spent with her group of close friends. There’s best friend Tara (Lydia Fleming), Shea (a brilliant Solly McLeod), and Merf (Jay Lycurgo), all of them hastily making their way to the school to open their envelopes together to see their grades. You can tell that the other three have lower expectations than Ziba, Shea particularly resigned to the fact that he’s flunked it having already hooked himself up with a job at the local garage. Merf has plans for the stage and screen having been discovered in the street and, after departing their old school, heads into central London to his first audition. Tara is also uncertain of her future, clearly concerned for her friend whose absence over the summer has been more than worrying. Ziba is holding something back from them, of course; an undisclosed illness that has potentially life-changing prospects for her supposedly bright future. A call from her consultant to come in to discuss tests is batted away, the teen pleading to let her enjoy her results and not worry about what has, or has not, been found. She doesn’t want to deal with that today. At least, not yet. 

Last Swim is a striking debut from Nathwani, who wrote the screenplay with Helen Simmons. It’s absorbing from the off, the group of teens we’re spending these ninety minutes or so with, is utterly enjoyable. The four actors have a great chemistry and it shines through on the screen. The addition of rising football teen Malcolm (Denzel Baidoo) shifts the dynamic for the better, too, the youngster just a year older than the group with his own crossroad appearing ahead of him. There’s a warmth between Ziba and Malcolm and an obvious romance that develops on screen, so brilliantly protrayed through these two superb performances.

The cinematography is also top-notch from Olan Collardy whose work on Rye Lye was so brilliant. The camerawork here captures images of London very different from his work on Raine Allen-Miller’s celebrated, from contained, long-lensed frames of London’s Haymarket, steering away from the obvious tourist-like angles, to the wide-angled sweeping vistas at dusk looking out over the city from leafy Primrose Hill.

A deeply melancholic, reflective theme runs throughout the film, the narrative not quite leading to where you expect it to. It is a story full of hope and intense inner sadness and anxiety depicted through the group of teens as they steer through a time of life where everything is about to change, whether in their control or not.

Last Swim was reviewed at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival.

Last Swim

Paul Heath



A striking first feature work from Sasha Nathwani with superb central performances.



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