Polish-Swedish drama Sweat is not the first attempt at probing the disconnect between social media personae and their personal lives (Ingrid Goes West, Eighth Grade, the vlogger character in Trigger Happy TV), but it is probably the most revealing. Even as far back as 2006, an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks saw Simon Amstell hug Lily Allen to demonstrate the intimacy she will never feel from her 100,000 friends on MySpace. A later ordeal with a stalker proves another experience Allen shares with Sweat’s protagonist Sylwia (Magdalena Koleśnik), an influencer and fitness guru with 600,000 followers but only a pet dog for company.
Social media has exploded since 2006, creating (among other things) a unique profession that requires round-the-clock performance. Where actors can usually delineate between themselves and their characters (Jared Leto notwithstanding), Sylwia’s Instagram work/life is so all-consuming that it warps her perspective of the real world. For her mother’s birthday (Aleksandra Konieczna) she gives her a copy of her latest fitness DVD and a massive TV to watch it on, talks about herself and then storms out when she doesn’t get the desired response. Sylwia’s broadcasting of her existence (including admitting her loneliness in tearful viral videos) results in strangers thinking they know her, to the point of confiding in her at the mall. Is it any wonder she expects more attention from her mum?
Magnus von Horn’s film is edgy yet empathetic, never judging Sylwia but penetrating her lifestyle to an extent even she would find a bit much. Koleśnik brilliantly plays her as someone with no idea how to ask for help, only how to sell herself. The picture darkens over the course of the drama as the aforementioned stalker (Tomasz Orpinski) brings out the best and worst in Sylwia’s character, testing the limits of her desire to be watched. This confrontational quality is intensified by handheld camerawork and grating sound: the whir of a milkshake mixer and scrape of a pedicure shot so close you can actually see the filings.
Sweat impressively avoids the temptation to go for laughs or thrills, instead portraying the sadness of a life whose only source of warmth is that of a ring light. Like a workout video after the cameras have stopped rolling, it looks beyond the spandex to find a pointed and perceptive picture about honesty, status and the true price of free gifts.
Sweat is released digitally on demand on 26th June 2021. Watch Sweat on Curzon Home.
Watch the trailer for Sweat here: