In Magnus von Horn’s Sweat, newcomer Magdalena Kolesnik breaks into the movie frenetically, portraying Sylwia Zajac—an Instagram personality and a workout guru with approximately 600,000 followers. Taking the center stage in the movie’s highly energetic opening, adeptly choreographed and staged, Sylwia is a powerhouse in the internet and in real life. We can feel the energy that she brings as she keeps calling her disciples “kochanie” (“sweetheart” or “darling” in Polish) and spreading positivity whenever she can. The opening sequence shows just how influential the main character is—how powerful is her motivation and how people would like to be like her. And yet, this is the grandest and the most lively the movie would ever be; because what follows is a milder character study to unravel how contrast everything is.
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As soon as the hustle and bustle of the opening dies down, Kolesnik guides to plunge head first into Sylwia’s pseudo-popularity. Her apartment looks chic with pastel-colored stuffs adorn the living area and her wardrobe; but, at the same time, it feels overly spacious and rather empty. In a matter of minutes, we’ll learn that she barely has social interactions in her real life; her interactions with human are mostly one-way and, obviously, online. In some instances where she talks to real, living human beings, there seems to be awkwardness looming around her. The stark contrast between her real life and her online presence happens in a blink of an eye. Most scenes are serene until Sylwia opens up her Instagram and posts a story or live videos.
Sweat mostly works as a slice-of-life drama rolling just like some other mundane days in the main character’s life. There’s barely plot development or exposition; conflicts happen but they are rather arbitrary and impulsive, rather than sequential. In the movie, Sylwia will guide audiences to follow her daily routines, just like what an Insta-queen would actually do in real (online) life. From walking her dog in a nearby park, working out excessively with her personal trainer, to complaining to her catering & delivery service for using plastic box, the camera would highlight her gaze as if her eyes telling us how unhappy she is with her routine (especially in the gym scene, where she looks rather tortured than compelled).
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One of the loudest conflicts that the movie keep bringing up unravels an off-screen moment where Sylwia had a breakdown—citing her own loneliness and vulnerability—in an Instagram video that would eventually be viral. People seem taken aback with her candid confession showcasing remorse and weaknesses given her reputation of spreading positivity here and there. Her sponsors worry that it would affect the brand’s image; meanwhile, mass media and gossip sites blame her for disappointing people who admire her. The question embarks: whose life is Sylwia living at the moment? Why can’t see be what she wants to be just because people choose to follow her?
People like; people follow; people engage; people stalk; people get obsessed and people own. That’s how Sylwia lost her life to people she’s obsessed to motivate. You might have heard such stories from time to time; but, it doesn’t cease to spark thoughts in your mind. Kolesnik, in her first major role, showcases an authentic performance that keeps tickling our sympathy even when her character’s star-syndrome can be cringeworthy at some points. At last, however shallow and clichéd the plot seems like, Sweat surprisingly delivers the sucker punch with a genuine take of a not-so-genuine life of an internet celebrity.