Sweat (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A few days in the life of social media influencer Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Kolesnik).

I will admit, I’m not too familiar with Polish cinema (which considering I lived with two Polish girls for a year, is not a good sign for me), my only experience being the SUBLIME 2014 film Bogowie which I still hold up as one of the best surprises I’ve had at the cinema, and is my default option for both “suggest a great foreign language film” and “suggest a great film nobody has heard of”. Plus, I’m a white English guy, so my head still unfortunately lumps a lot of European films together because I don’t know enough to differentiate different countries film cultures yet. And the last “European” film I saw was The Columnist (which was also the last film I saw of any description before this) so my brain was always going to compare the two. So this film had the unlucky nature to have both high expectations, yet also be something I knew nothing about.

So with that in mind what can I say about this? Well my immediate thought is wondering whether the two Polish films I’ve watched are outliers or if Polish cinema is fucking incredible. This film is incredibly intense. Not in a “Death and bleakness and horribleness” kind of way that you think “I’m glad this isn’t happening to me”, but in a “this is relentlessly emotionally devastating and I don’t know how this person copes and it’s obviously happening to a lot of people around the world” way.

There’s a lot of criticism of social media influencers, especially fitness ones. The general consensus from people is that it’s not a “proper job” and it’s easy. This film shows just how foolish the notion that it’s “easy” is. Her job defines her whole character. Everything she does, she does it through the lens of her job. Not in a “this is bad writing” way, but because that’s the only way she knows to define herself, she feels she has no identity. She is aware that she has a lot of followers but no friends. Everybody watches her talk, but nobody LISTENS to her.

The film has a real intimacy to it, but it’s a strange detached sense of intimacy. It feels like it’s mostly handheld and shot via very intrusive close ups so you get the sense that even when she’s not filming herself on her phone, that she doesn’t really have any privacy. Even when she’s in a room on her own, the way that Magnus Von Horn shot it means that it still feels like she’s being watched and is putting on a front. I’m a big fan of using the camera to tell a story instead of just “put the camera in this spot and have people talk”, and Von Horn does a fantastic job of it to the point where the camera feels like another character.

Even her own family don’t take her worries seriously. She mentions about how she had to confront a guy who was stalking her, and he was outside her house in his car masturbating as he stared at her. The reaction from her family is “why did you have to go up to his window” and “you were too mean, he could have been a very nice person”. So even among her family she has nobody she feels she can talk to, even among people who “know” her, she can’t talk to them about her concerns. It’s a horrifying scene, which is strange considering it’s just people talking. But that’s what this film is, if I could sum it up it would be an emotional horror movie. Instead of seeing a woman killed, we see her psyche and sense of self-worth take a constant battering and it’s genuinely difficult to watch. This is best highlighted in one of the closing scenes where she’s on a talk show and she just BREAKS, completely, giving one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking speeches I’ve seen:

“What’s wrong with the fact that I admitted that right now there’s no one in my life who loves me? Does that mean that I’m weak or pathetic? In that case I want to be weak and pathetic because that’s when I’m myself. When I’m the Sylwia from the posters I feel very lonely and I’m just tired of pretending that I’m better than I am. I’m tired of wondering that I’m not good enough. I want to be weak and pathetic because weak pathetic people are the most beautiful people on earth”

You could show somebody that scene and they would instantly understand her character. The most heart-breaking part of that speech? That it doesn’t matter. She gets up and does another workout on television in front of the camera. The final shot is her having a big old smile, a big fake smile, that you can see her losing as the film fades to black. That’s the life of a person like this. If you want a vision of their future, imagine a camera pointed at their face, forever.

In summary, I highly recommend this film. It’s like a reverse Joker. That was a film about someone crying out to be noticed by society, this about someone wanting to be noticed by her own friends and family, and for society to let her live for a while. This is available to rent on Curzon Home Cinema for like a fiver, and is well worth it.

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