VOD film review: Sweat
Von Horn's direction8
Von Horn's script8
Matthew Turner | On 25, Jun 2021
Director: Magnus von Horn
Cast: Magdalena Koleśnik, Julian Świeżewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Tomasz Orpiński, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Dominika Biernat
Where to watch Sweat online in the UK: MUBI UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Sky Store / CHILI
Originally scheduled to debut at 2020’s Cannes Film Festival, this Swedish-Polish co-production is the second feature from writer-director Magnus von Horn, who previously made a splash on the Croisette with juvenile delinquent coming-of-ager The Here After. Here, von Horn turns his sharp eye to social media culture, examining the perfect-on-the-surface life of a fitness influencer.
Set in present-day Warsaw, the film stars Magdalena Koleśnik (an established stage actor making her screen debut) as Sylwia Zajac, a fitness instructor who’s become something of an Instagram celebrity, sharing regular updates with her 600,000 followers. We first meet her running a fitness event at a shopping mall, surrounded by adoring fans who tell her she’s changed their lives.
However, as the film unfolds over the course of three days, we quickly realise things are far from perfect. For one thing, Sylwia is in trouble with her sponsors, who have decided that her recent late-night, weepy confessional Instagram post where she admitted to being lonely and wanting a boyfriend isn’t good for their brand image.
A gathering for her mother’s (Aleksandra Konieczna) birthday reveals tensions within Sylwia’s own family relationships, while a chance encounter with an old school friend only serves to deepen Sylwia’s unhappiness with her life. On top of everything else, she discovers she has a stalker, Rysiek (Tomasz Orpinski), who hangs outside her apartment and sends her video messages telling her he’s lonely too.
Looking like a permanently perky Fitness Barbie, all blonde ponytail and bright pink work-out clothes, Magdalena Koleśnik is simply terrific as Sylwia, delivering a captivating performance that is certain to give her a serious career boost. There’s also strong support from Julian Swiezewski as Sylwia’s muscle-bound fitness assistant Klaudiusz, whose very obvious crush on her carries a subtle air of menace.
It would have been all too easy to demonise Sylwia for satirical purposes, exposing the vacuity of the influencer lifestyle. Instead, Koleśnik and von Horn find unexpected levels of sympathy in the character, while exploring the complex nature of social media as an addiction, an obsession and a trap, but also as an entirely relatable way to construct and curate your own identity.
That unexpected sympathy is also present in the subplot involving Sylwia’s stalker, which doesn’t play out the way you expect. The film stops short of making a direct connection between Rysiek and Sylwia’s other 599,999 followers, but you don’t have to scratch too hard to see that it’s there, making a strong point about the way the social media fools you into believing that you really know someone.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Michal Dymek, with crisp images and a stylish use of both colour and close-ups. One shot in particular – a close-up of Sylwia’s face when she’s on a treadmill – is simply extraordinary, as her features snap into focus at different levels as she runs while also seeming to blur into one, suggesting identity turmoil and fiercely determined clarity all at once.
Sweat is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.