Warsaw based fitness instructor Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik) has become a celebrity because of the self promotion on social media which has earned her 600,000 followers and a string of lucrative product endorsements.  But when she sees a man, Rysiek (Tomasz Orpinski), pleasuring himself in his car outside of her apartment as she walks her dog Jackson, her bizarre pride in having a ‘stalker’ signals something very wrong in “Sweat.”

Laura's Review: A-

Writer/director Magnus von Horn’s film’s powerful portrayal of the addictive nature of social media and the way its psychologically tuned algorithms Impact self esteem is enough to make one want to swear off their platforms.  Featuring a shattering performance from Kolesnik, the actress unafraid to appear unlikable, and intimate, hand-held yet crisp cinematography from Michal Dymek, this Polish export packs an earned punch.  It would be a shame if this Mubi release were to fly under the radar – this one’s worth signing up for.

The film opens on Sylwia conducting a public workout session on a raised stage at a shopping mall, her blonde ponytail, big blue eyes and pink workout gear part of her obvious appeal.  She is adept in the practice of fan engagement, fawning over a silly, handmade gift and taking endless selfies, the façade dropping only momentarily as she strides to her dressing room where she immediately sends out a video thanking everyone from her ever present phone.

We learn that trouble is brewing when she hears from her manager, Luksus (Mateusz Król), who tells her a video in which she’d cried had gone viral, alarming a sponsor and losing her a television booking to a rival.  Sylwia’s response is to go home and video herself making a smoothie with said sponsor’s protein powder and the hoverboard from ‘my friends at Fiat,’ another freebie requiring the influencer’s acknowledgement.

After the car park incident, Sylwia seems almost more disturbed by the tearful apology video she receives from the middle-aged and heavy set Rysiek, the man’s references to his mother indicating some kind of mental problem.  He’s pathetic, really, but Sylwia herself seems increasingly so.  We feel pity for the sweet terrier, Jackson, who is at best a loneliness stopgap and at worst, a trendy accessory (he has his own hashtag!), despite Sylwia showering him with kisses and baby talk.  She runs into a high school friend while shopping for a birthday gift for her mother, Basia (Aleksandra Konieczna, "Corpus Christi"), a woman she’s seen so little she’s surprised to learn Fryderyk (Zbigniew Zamachowski, all three of Kieslowski's "Three Colors"), who she’s yet to meet, has become a partner.  After being reluctant to give the old friend any of her time, she seems genuinely moved by a tale of miscarriage yet brings the focus back to her own loneliness.  Von Horn outdoes himself depicting Mom’s birthday celebration, a display of self absorption on Sylwia’s part so embarrassing for all involved that even her apology is off key (Konieczna’s subtle work here is a standout).

It is Sylwia’s response to this, a paparazzi attention grab at a local nightclub where she picks up fitness assistant Klaudiusz (Julian Swiezewski) with a sexy come on, that leads to the film’s devastating climax, one in which von Horn again surprises us, his heroine actually taking responsibility for her less compassionate actions.  Then he twists the knife one more time in the final scene as she publicly arrives at a painful truth.

Kolesnik, who resembles Jane Krakowski cast as a Barbie doll, is exceptionally good here, not only convincing with the physicality of Sywlia’s profession, but the shallow, smiling insincerity of someone who sells herself on the Internet.   And yet the actress allows Sywlia’s humanity to peek through, too, giving von Horn’s trenchant warning a sympathetic face.  The film’s look is slick, its message urgent.  “Sweat” is a remarkable achievement.

Robin's Review: B+

Sylwia (Magdalena Kolesnik) is a fitness coordinator and social media celebrity surrounded, online, by acolytes and fans. But, she longs for real intimacy in her life, not just fame, and wants someone to love and to love her in “Sweat.”

I am probably the wrong guy to say whether this is an accurate critique of social media and its hold on its participants, having never partaken in it in any way – unless e-mail counts. That said, writer-director Magnus von Horn and his star Magdalena Kolesnik create a gripping analysis of modern behavior in the age of social media. It makes me happy I never fell into the trap.

Sylwia works hard at working out for and with her followers - some 600000 she claims. She is constantly posting videos of all aspects of her life in her search for attention and praise. But social media is a demanding master to those who use, and are addicted, by it. She may have her multitudes of followers but the pretty, athletic woman does not have anyone of her own.

The story shows how the dangerous addiction to the social platform can have on those who crave its attention and the fame it can give the players who embrace it. The problem is, for all the adulation and “love” the fans give, there is nothing real and genuine about it, just addiction. Director and star show this perfectly in their fascinating character study

Mubi opened “Sweat” in theaters on 6/18/2021.  It will begin streaming on their platform on 7/23/2021.