Sweat swims in the grey areas of internet intimacy to thoughtful, sometimes unsettling results.
For as long as we’ve held any conception of celebrity, it’s always come tethered to one question nagging at the public mind: are they really just like us? Whether borne of high art or gossip tabloids, we seem to have always been fascinated with the inner lives of our idols, and in testing their armor for vulnerabilities. Where public figures might once have gotten away with hiding away high upon their pedestals, with the dawn of the social media age and a new form of fame that relies on tearing those very pedestals down, there’s now a race to become the most relatable, the most authentic, the most down-to-earth they can be. Those carefully-curated vulnerabilities are suddenly where celebrities and wannabes alike make their mint, and when a minor fall from grace can be fatal to a career, the stakes are high.
In Magnus von Horn’s new drama Sweat, the director explores what happens when the cameras never stop rolling and the lights never go down, and the resultant psychological toll of a life lived entirely in the public eye. Sweat chronicles three days in the life of influencer Sylwia Zając (Magdalena Koleśnik) as she navigates her personal and professional life, trying to pull something real from the tangled web of parasocial relationships that plague all her attempts at connection. What follows is a thoughtful examination of modern intimacy that, in spite of its lack of proper plot, still manages to compel.
In part, this is due to Koleśnik’s magnetic central performance as Sylwia, which shifts seamlessly from the excitement and high energy of her public-facing persona to a quiet, almost tragic loneliness emanated when alone. Her infectious energy and careful pathos carries the film and lends an air of sincerity to a career that, in our modern take-down culture, is all too easy to turn one’s nose up at — while there’s corporate interests lurking all around, Sylwia’s public face feels authentic, a joyful extension of her private self that helps Sweat move beyond the sort of bland cynicism with which another director might approach the topic.
Arguably the most unsettling (and original) facet of Sweat is its unflinching depiction of both sides of the curious relationship implicit to such forms of fame. Specifically, film makes study of one particular under-explored element of these complex dynamics, emphasizing the role of the audience in Sylwia’s emotional stability instead of simply focusing on her impact on her audience. When masses of anonymous fans tell Sylwia they love her, she says it back and, worryingly, she’s telling the truth. Sylwia’s relationships vacillate between the digital and the real, and doubt is seeded in them all — when a new face greets her in a shopping mall, it takes a moment for viewers to understand whether this is a fan encounter or not, and Sylwia even seems to measure her own mother’s love in how much she praises her career. Not only does Von Horn not shy away from the precarious grey areas of internet living and its impact on our relationships, but couches his film in precisely this space, interrogating both sides of the coin with gusto. In the midst of a boon of cinema confronting such subject matter, Sweat proves to be a thoughtful, innovative, sometimes unsettling but profoundly honest look at new forms of intimacy in the age of influencers,
You can currently stream Magnus von Horn’s Sweat on Mubi.