Sweat (4 stars)

Sweat

Compassionate take on the life of a social media influencer from Magnus von Horn

It would have been so easy to sneer, but Swedish director Magnus von Horn instead takes a compassionate look at that most modern of phenomena: social media influencers. In his quest to find the human frailty behind the veneer of perfection, he's aided by the mesmerising work of Magdalena Kolesnik as fitness trainer Sylwia Zajac, whose situation is much more unenviable than her painted-on smile would have you believe.

Introduced as she gets a pumped-up and adoring crowd exercising during a tour of Poland, where the story is set, the ostensibly popular Sylwia seems to have it all. However, on closer examination her life is actually rather empty and she yearns to share it with someone other than strangers – who can, after all, simply switch her off. When she posts a teary video talking about her disappointing romantic situation and jealousy of others, it goes viral, but her sponsors start to get nervous.

We see how desperately Sylwia tries to ingratiate herself to her quite brittle and unaffectionate mother Basia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who seems to be the only person of significance in her life. During Basia's awkward birthday meal, where a number of extended family members and friends are also present, Sylwia steals the spotlight with flashy gifts and talk of her own success, while the appearance of a stalker, in the shape of the dishevelled and self-flagellating Rysiek (Tomasz Orpinski), has an unexpectedly profound impact on her.

Despite the supposedly confessional nature of social media, the real world is of course a lot more messy than Instagram and the like would have you believe, something that's starkly and impactfully presented here, with Sylwia's attempts at IRL interactions comprehensively disastrous, including a flirtation with sleazy colleague Klaudiusz (Julian Swiezewski). There's further fascination in the way Sylwia's physical strength is contrasted with her emotional vulnerability.

Overlooking her tendency toward self-absorption, von Horn shows real sensitivity to his protagonist's predicament, after all she just wants to be loved. And Kolesnik knocks it out of the park with her pathos-infused and extremely credible performance as a sweet and very lonely young woman who risks it all to show the world her sadness.

Available to watch in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday 25 June.

Sweat

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • Poland / Sweden
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Magnus von Horn
  • Cast: Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski

Three days in the life of a social media celebrity and fitness instructor.