Marco Orsini‘s documentary Beyond the Raging Sea is billed as a retelling of a thrilling sea rescue of two extreme sports athletes, but is really an exercise in pure hubris. Made in conjunction with the UN Refugee Agency, it details the disastrous attempt to row across the Atlantic by Egyptian duo Omar Samra and Omar Nour as part of a gruelling race from the Canary Isles to the Americas. A daunting proposition for the most experienced oarsmen. Sheer insanity when neither had any prior rowing experience.

Told principally though talking heads, primarily the two hapless mariners themselves, the documentary details the planning of and practice for the expedition, and the first eight days of the race. Even when things are going well, and even with a seriously top-of-the-line boat, it’s a litany of frozen extremities, sodden clothing, and excruciating chafing. But then disaster strikes. The boat designed so it can’t possibly capsize? Well, man plans and Neptune laughs, as the Fisher Price Titanic is picked up by an enormous wave and promptly overturned. It looks hopeless for Omar Squared, but miraculously a huge Greek vessel is in the vicinity. But the rescue is just as treacherous as the race itself.

For all of the rampant stupidity at play, both Omar Samra and Omar Nour are likeable and engaging in differing ways. Nour is more of a raconteur, happy to detail every harrowing moment. Samra is more reserved, telling his side with a certain self-aware sheepishness lacking in his more loquacious chum. The two manage to get across a sense of terror and urgency in their retelling, aided by the captain of the ship who staged an incredible rescue and some hair-raising footage of said rescue – an undertaking every bit as terrifying as the initial capsizing. But for all it is briskly edited and fleshed out with some animated sketches to illustrate some technical points, it feels like an intercontinental episode of Michael Buerk‘s 999.

Not only is Beyond the Raging Sea limited in dramatic terms, but the pair’s intended aim of raising awareness of the global refugee crisis feels completely tone deaf. Indulging a hair-brained scheme in a pimped-out pedalo emblazoned with luxury whisky brands is hardly commensurate to scores of desperate people crowding onto a flimsy dinghy in the vague hope of a better life. The film tries to solidify this connection with the addition of a coda in which a Syrian man and a young African tell the tales of their own life-or-death voyages. Of course, these are horrific tales and show that there are solid good intentions at the film’s heart, but in terms of the narrative structure of the documentary it’s a bizarre choice. It’s tacked on from nowhere, and frankly does more to throw into sharp relief the lunacy of its ostensible subjects.

In selected cinemas from Fri 19 Apr 2024