Sweat opens with a hyperkinetic spectacle at a Polish shopping mall. Social media star and fitness influencer Sylwia (Magdalena Kolesnik) is doing an in-person fitness demonstration for her adoring fans. As Sylwia shouts motivational phrases and directs the throngs of people from exercise to exercise, one cannot but think of her as a kind of preacher on stage, steering her devoted congregation toward a state of bliss. Her fans want to escape the bodies that make them unhappy, that trap them. They aspire to be what Sylwia symbolizes.
If all this seems like yet another example of our shallow contemporary age, it is not. There is a heartfelt connection between the fitness guru and her fans. They take selfies with their idol, give her presents, and explain how she’s inspired them. As for Sylwia, her fans are her only social connection. Each video Sylwia posts may have followers in the six figures, but she is crushingly lonely in her personal life.
“Social media star and fitness influencer Sylwia…is crushingly lonely in her personal life.”
In the first thirty minutes of Sweat, writer/director Magnus von Horn masterfully lays out the themes he wants to explore through visual language and narrative pacing. He takes the viewer from the frenetic scene at the mall to contrasting quieter scenes of Sylwia backstage after her event and at her apartment where she lives the life of a single woman — meal service lunches, posting videos on her phone of her humdrum activities, taking her only companion, dog Jackson, out on walks. Without falling prey to cliché, the filmmaker establishes an exploration into the themes of contemporary loneliness and connection.
He is also keenly aware of the tensions between the internal self and the performative self we project to the world. Something as mundane as going upstairs becomes a performative act, out of which Sylwia makes a video post for her fans explaining the benefits of taking stairs when trying to attain fitness goals. Von Horn has achieved what few artists can: capturing the very contemporary phenomenon of the fractured self.
"…an exploration into the themes of contemporary loneliness and connection."