Magdalena Kolesnik in SWEAT directed by Magnus Von Horn


Sweat is a deconstruction of our basest assumptions about social influencers as vain, superficial, cunning and self-interested. Sweat has no truck with these cliches. Fitness motivator and social influencer Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik) might walk seamlessly into exclusive night clubs and command a rapturous paparazzi, but she is undoubtedly hardworking. Just watch her workouts. Sylwia is super fit, photogenic and boundlessly enthusiastic. She attracts adoring crowds and boasts 600,000 followers on social media. Effortlessly camera-friendly, she posts selfies and spontaneous videos. Watch her make a healthy smoothie; follow her taking the stairs up to her penthouse. High-end companies shower Sylwia in gifts. TV companies want her on their shows. She bestows her fans with love and pep talks. “I created the SWEAT workout program especially for you. Join me and stay with me to the end. Remember work with the body you have, not the body you want. Accept yourself.” Her “brand” is perfection – almost.

In Sweat, something is wrong in Sywia’s manicured world of heady success. Crying into her device, she has admitted to thousands of strangers, she is lonely. The video has gone viral with consequences.

Director Magnus von Horn acknowledges the tricky and dangerous side of influencing. There are underlying threats running throughout Sweat. Sylwia is stalked, her personal trainer hits on her and the media turn on her. There is an edge to this film, created by lengthy close-ups of Kolesnik’s beautifully made-up, blinking eyes, as if something untoward might happen.

Sweat, however, shies away from the usual influencer movies which reduce these eager performers to cutesy oddballs, calculating manipulators or victims. Sweat is not a comedy (Ingrid Goes West, 2017, Emily in Paris, 2020); it is not a dystopian thriller (The Hater, 2020, another Polish film and savage indictment of social media) and it is not a horror flick (Die Influencers Die, 2020).

Von Horn brings a rounded character to the screen in the unlikely guise of a pin-up. Slywia has a stultified relationship with an unloving mother. At her mother’s birthday party, we find a power imbalance between a grown child futilely seeking approval. Her mother (Aleksandra Konieczna) refuses to meet her daughter’s imploring eyes. She belittles Sylwia’s distress about a stalker (Tomasz Orpinski) masturbating outside her apartment. “He might be nice.”

When Sweat takes a downward turn, Von Horn is still focussed. He is more concerned with Slywia’s humanity - her kind, conscientious nature and her honesty. The Kolesnik close-ups are windows into Sylwia’s mind as she navigates the responses of others.

As for superficial, Slywia is as conscientious and earnest as it gets. The denouement lands a punch. Sylwia loves her followers. When she talks to camera, espousing her love and encouragement, she means every word. To bring this character successfully to screen, takes some acting (plus a year of intense fitness training) and Magdalena Kolesnik’s performance is intimate and daring.