11 years ago The Social Network looked at how someone doesn’t “get to 750,000,000 friends without making a few enemies”. In 2021, Polish social media drama Sweat asks what do you do when you have 600,000 followers but zero friends?
The film takes place over three days in the life of fitness motivator Sylwia Zajac. A social media celebrity surrounded by loyal employees and admirers, who is really looking for true intimacy in the fallout of a viral post.
Attending one of Sylwia’s fitness events or scrolling her Instagram feed, it would appear she has the perfect life. However appearances can be deceiving. Inspite of the adoring fans, the apartment with her image emblazoned on the walls, the fancy party invites, TV appearances, etc, Sylwia’s life feels empty and sad. The Beatles sang “money can’t buy me love” and the same seems to go for social media fame.
Magdalena Kolesnik is stunning in the role of Sylwia. She has a Christian Bale-esque ability to portray an almost split personality. Like his Bruce Wayne/Batman and Patrick Bateman, she is able to switch on her public persona when a camera is on. But turn the camera off and the flashlight seems to go out of her eyes, leaving only an emptiness and sadness.
She cries that she is lonely and desires love but struggles when put into normal situations. Witness the awkwardness she feels when forced to have a coffee with someone she knew at school or have a sitdown family dinner. When she has interactions with men, whether it be a co-worker who fancies her or her stalker, they only see the Sylwia from Instagram and not the real woman behind the camera.
Magnus Van Horn is the writer-director of the film, drawing inspiration from a real-life fitness influencer he began following on social media. The end result can sit alongside Eighth Grade as one of a handful of films that give a realistic view of the loneliness of living a digital life. One that many of us are becoming increasingly used to following the last sixteen months of lockdowns.
Is there hope for Sylwia, and the rest of us? An appearance on a morning TV show where her masks temporarily slips shows a glimmer of hope for her. She realises it is all fake. That if she deleted her account, the 600,000 followers wouldn’t miss her. They would instantly move on to the next thing. Yet for her, they are everything and she needs them to make sense of who she is. She is as addicted to social media and her followers as they are. It is a far more symbiotic than parasitic relationship than one might think.
In that brutally honest moment, Van Horn and Kolesnik achieve something impossible. They elicit sympathy for a social media influencer.
A moment later however, the spotlight is back on and perhaps
You shouldn’t sweat the small stuff but Sweat shows that the small things matter to an influencer. Every single “like” is validation. Well, on the back of this effort, audiences will be keen to see more from them in the future. So Van Horn and Magdalena Kolesnik get one huge like and subscribe.
Sweat is in cinemas now and available to stream on Mubi from July 23rd
Director: Magnus Van Horn
Stars: Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Zbigniew Zamachowski
Runtime: 106 minutes