Zlín 2024 Review: LAST SWIM, Youth, Identity and Uncertainty of Adulthood Converge

Sasha Nathwani's feature debut, a bittersweet coming-of-age doubling as a London road movie, explores youths facing inevitable changes on the cusp of adulthood.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Zlín 2024 Review: LAST SWIM, Youth, Identity and Uncertainty of Adulthood Converge

Newcomer Sasha Nathwani delivers a tender, sun-soaked exploration of youthful despondency in his feature-length debut, Last Swim.

The story follows Ziba (Deba Hekmat), a British-Iranian teenager whose life is on the cusp of irrevocable change. A single, momentous day in London serves as both a literal and metaphorical journey for Ziba, as she navigates the treacherous waters of adolescence, cultural identity, and terminal illness.

Nathwani, whose previous works include music videos and fashion films, brings a unique emotional sensibility to his first feature that deals with difficult subject but manages to avoid the melancholic tone it might have acquired. Last Swim is a hangout film with Ziba's classmates celebrating the end-of-school exam. She is the overachiever in the group, hoping to turn her passion for astronomy into vocation at a London university.

While everybody in the group takes Ziba for the nerd who is going to achieve big things in life, she does not look that far into the future. Instead, she planned the best day and night out to celebrate end-of-school exams in hot summer London and step into adulthood, crowned with witnessing a once in several decades celestial event. Ziba's sudden nosebleeds and anxiousness about petty things soon start alarming her friends, who suspect something is terribly off.


Last Swim positions Nathwani within the burgeoning landscape of young British cinema, alongside recent standout debuts, such as Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex and Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun. However, unlike its contemporaries, Last Swim was produced independently, free from public funding. Nathwani crafted a story that is deeply personal, reflecting his own experiences growing up in London and a tapestry of identities that come with it.

The story pivots around Ziba, who is awaiting her A-Level results while secretly grappling with a terminal illness. Her friends, blissfully unaware of her condition, embark on a day of carefree adventure. The day includes all her favorite experiences, serving as a farewell to the life she has known. The appearance of a new face in the group, Malcolm (Denzel Baidoo), disrupts Ziba's plan and adds another layer to the story, his own struggles with parental expectations echoing the protagonist’s battles with cultural and academic pressures.

Nathwani captures the essence of youthful exuberance and the weight of impending adulthood on the crossroads where carelessness ends. Ziba and Malcolm pose as a counterweight to what normal happy-go-lucky adolescence looks like, as they must grapple with more than their partying-loving peers do.


The cinematography, handled by Olan Collardy, juxtaposes the vibrant, sunlit streets of England´s capital with the darker, more introspective moments of Ziba’s predicament in a London road movie. This visual contrast underscores the film’s central theme: the tension between the boundless possibilities of youth and the harsh realities of life, and its unexpected and uncontrollable whims and twists.

Nathwani captures both the heartbreaking and exhilarating essence of adolescence in a haunting reminder of life's fragility. The story is life-affirming yet bittersweet, compelling the protagonist to navigate uncertainties that also serve as a metaphor for reaching adulthood. Despite its somber themes, Last Swim is a feel-good summer film that celebrates camaraderie in a multi-ethnic society and the resolve to push against the odds.

The film eschews typical coming-of-age tropes, or subverts them, countering adolescent hormone-driven narratives with existential gravitas, which turns the film with all its laughs and jokes into a pognant reflection of adolescence and what lies beyond.

The film recent screened at the Ziln Film Festival in the Czech Republic

Last Swim

  • Sasha Nathwani
  • Sasha Nathwani
  • Helen Simmons
  • Lydia Fleming
  • Narges Rashidi
  • Jay Lycurgo
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Sasha NathwaniZlín Film Fest 2024Helen SimmonsLydia FlemingNarges RashidiJay LycurgoDrama

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