Director – Magnus von Horn – 2020 – Poland, Sweden – Cert. 15 – 106m
An Instagram fitness celebrity struggles with the tension between constant self-promotion and everyday existence – on MUBI from Friday, September 17th
This opens with Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik) leading a demanding workout with a crowd of dozens of her fitness fans in a shopping mall. It closes during her appearance on the ‘Good Morning TVN’ TV chat show with her doing a wake up workout for the camera. Somewhere in the middle, when she visits her mum Basia (Aleksandra Konieczna) for a birthday gathering where she meets Basia’s new boyfriend Fryderyk (Zbigniew Zamachowski), she plays her latest fitness DVD on the big plasma TV she’s just given her mum – who thinks it’s too big for her living room.
Hitchcock once described movies as “life with the dull bits left out” but this Polish movie takes a completely opposite approach, with writer-director Van Horne interested in the dull bits in between the star’s high profile presence. Sylwia is as much an Instagram personality as a fitness trainer and has “around 600 000” followers on the platform.
During the opening workout, she addresses her fans as “my loves”, the mode of address she consistently uses in her posts and, it turns out, in life, and after the workout she publicly takes a selfie. The bits in between, though, are the things she’s constantly trying to turn into highlights. Perhaps she’s attempting the impossible: you can only be a high powered, public personality some of the time, otherwise you’d burn out.
We watch as she carries bags up the staircase to her flat, turning it into another online video to inspire her fans. We watch her inside her home opening packages from sponsors or masking a smoothie using one of their products – the dull bits, it seems, are turned into social media posts. She fusses over her beloved dog Jackson. In a restaurant, her agent queries her recent post which went viral, in which she confessed to wishing she had a boyfriend or a husband.
Taking Jackson out for a walk, she notices the man (Tomasz Orpinski) parked outside her building. Coming back she challenges him, only for him to pull his man-bits out and start playing with them. When she’s at her mum’s for the party, she relates this “stalker” incident to gathered relatives saying the fitness world is not all “happy and colour”. For all her energy and superficial cheer, she seems ill at ease with herself.
This comes to a head when she invites her assistant Klaudiusz (Julian Swiezewski) back to her flat after a big celebrity party. She gives him the come on, but then switches tack and asks him to go and talk to the man in the car. Which he does, breaking the car window and beating the guy to a bloody pulp, all watched by her until she can’t watch any more from her upper storey flat. When he returns to the flat, her mood has changed to frosty; he’s reduced to playing with himself, then he departs, leaving her to go downstairs and drive his victim into hospital.
The next morning, she has the live TV slot and as in the viral video, she gets very emotional before turning the emotion off to do her planned workout for broadcast.
Perhaps Sylwia is incapable of relationships – she lures Klaudiusz on, uses him for her own purposes then turns on him, she has gets the stalker beaten up, then tries to assuage her guilt by taking him to the hospital and even with her mother, she leaves the dinner table after telling her story to open a pre-packed healthy meal in the bedroom. She only seems at ease with herself when leading exercise groups or communicating with her “loves” on social media. Or alone with her dog.
Shot in a hand-held style that follows Sylwia everywhere she goes, it’s an intense character study of internet age celebrity with a powerful lead performance.
Sweat is on MUBI from Friday, September 17th.
UK Release Schedule
Cinemas, Curzon Home Cinema: Friday, June 25th
MUBI: Friday, September 17th