Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik), the endlessly energetic, Barbie-pink adorned fitness influencer is always being watched. Her thousands of followers hang onto her every word during live streamed videos, the more dedicated attend her ‘Sweat’ fitness classes in shopping centres across Poland, and a man sits in a car opposite her building and watches her – touching himself – as she walks her dog.
Set over three days in the life of Polish influencer Sylwia, Sweat swerves between an in-depth depiction of the modern day trendsetters, and a morality tale warning of the dangers of exposing everything online and the increasingly narcissistic belief that our own lives are interesting enough to be shared with the world.
There is a deep sense of loneliness in Sylwia as she bounced around on a stage, beaming out positive endorsements towards her followers who have travelled from miles around to attend one of her bootcamps. In a barely-there glint, captured by an intimate, intrusive camera, she is briefly overwhelmed when asked for selfies by a number of fans.
This isolation, we find out as the film progresses, is a defining feature of her life. Days earlier Sylwia has live streamed herself talking about her desire to have someone by her side, to ‘hold her hand’ and reassure her everything will be alright. This departure from her usual high energy, positivity filled timeline has caused sponsors to worry. Protein powder companies do not want to be associated with lonely, crying women, her manager tells her without much regard for his client’s mental health. Sylwia retorts that she posts what she wants on her social media – something that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There is a constant pressure to be posting at all moments, to keep the content wheel churning and her followers engaged and interested in every aspect of her life. In her sparse, stylistic, sterile flat there are phone holders everywhere, perched on mirrors at the perfect angle for a morning routine to be captured, for a sponsored product haul to be displayed, for Sylwia to invite strangers into every intimate corner of her life. She knows that with a simply click of a button, a single deactivation, everything would be over. And so she keeps going, even when the emergence of a stalker creeps into the periphery – disappointingly, an element of the script that is never fully expanded to any significance.
Kolesnik’s quiet, subtle performance is one of the highlights of the film – there are few moments of big emotional displays, which are often relegated to the private sphere – instead she processes Sylwia’s true feelings in the spaces between words, a quiet look of resignation here, a blank politeness there. Kept in a perpetual state of perky, when she does lash out there is childish exuberance to these bursts of emotion – most strikingly a jealous fit of anger when she meets her mother’s new partner and accuses him of being a pervert.
With a pulsating, 80s style soundtrack, bright pink headbands and a peppy energy that rarely dulls in front of the camera, Marcus Van Horn’s Sweat often brings to mind the endless fitness videos of Jane Fonda from nearly forty years ago, but this is a film firmly set in the twenty-first century. The parasocial relationships between celebrities and everyone else is only heightened through constant coverage that is consumed every day.
Behind the filtered photos, glamourous press shots and idealised lifestyle is a portrayal of a young woman, anchorless and alone in a world that only seeks to commodify her fitness.
Rose is a film critic , who graduated from the University of Liverpool with an MRes in Film Studies. She loves thrillers, Al Pacino, and multilingual cinema and she’s not entirely sure if she’s a millennial.