One cannot give enough praise to both von Horn and Magdalena Kolesnik. It’s impossible to imagine a tighter symbiosis between director and actor; in fact, it is hard to imagine Sweat in the hands of a different duo. Compatriots like Kieślowski and Wajda captured the contemporaneity of post-World War II Poland, with all its social issues and its characters working through those issues. The director, while gazing at a very different Poland, reflects Poland and Polish characters struggling through the issues of their day. Those issues are perhaps more universal now, given the ubiquity of social media, than ever.
Visual sequences wherein we see a close-up of Kolesnik’s intense face as she runs on a treadmill, or a hyper-close-up of a nail file grinding away, are evidence of a director using visuals, not as decorations, but in the service of the story. However, it must be emphasized that none of this would have been possible without Kolesnki’s performance. She is a revelation, alternating between the performative mask she puts on, to vulnerable and lonely, to compassionate and self-obsessed. The actress captures the struggle we all face when we are seduced by the contemporary cliché of “being your best self” while feeling gaping loneliness. Kolesnik does it all with subtly and grace.
“…[will] leave you breathless…”
One of the central storylines in Sweat involves a stalker (Tomasz Orpinski) who becomes obsessed with Sylwia. The stalker understandably frightens her. But there is a realization on her part that he may be suffering from loneliness as well. Sylwia’s interactions with her stalker reveal much—she perhaps has an epiphany about the gulf that exists between her performative self and the “real world.”
In the hands of a less capable director and actor, the thriller elements would be squeezed out to the very last drop; the film would be yet another tired exercise in suspense. That is not what Sweat is going for. It is not trying to make you breathless from cheap tension; its goal is to leave you breathless from an aesthetic and storytelling perspective. Without a doubt, it achieves that goal.
"…an exploration into the themes of contemporary loneliness and connection."