A Polish drama reveals the solitude of a social media fitness influencer. 


Magdalena Koleśnik


You can’t miss it: when the camera love somebody the evidence is inescapable and there’s absolutely no doubt at all but that the camera loves the Polish actress Magdalena Koleśnik. In Sweat, a film by the Swedish writer/director Magnus von Horn, she plays the central role of Sylwia Zajac. Sylwia is a fitness instructor living in Warsaw and travelling around with her own workout presentation. In addition, she has hopes of gaining a special spot coming up on an early morning television show. But what has really brought her fame and made her something of a celebrity stems from the posts that she is continually putting out on Instagram. They have given delight to followers who now exist in their thousands.

The notion of portraying a woman who attains this kind of success and making her very much the central character might have encouraged a satirical approach. But that is not the course taken here. Quite apart from her photogenic looks, Koleśnik is a very fine actress. She is well able to suggest without exaggeration the public facade adopted by Sylwia to promote her image while also revealing the underlying loneliness of someone who lacks a boyfriend and is increasingly aware that her position is one in which most of the time she has to act as though she is ‘on’. She is concerned too to discover that she has a stalker (Tomasz Orpinski) who is sexually aroused by her, but for the first half of the film this appears relatively incidental.


For some time, it feels surprising that the film’s writer/director is a man since Sylwia and her outlook are absolutely central. Scenes of her at work give the piece energy, but Sweat relies for sustained impact on the vivid presence of its leading player and on its sense of life today. The film captures not only the location but more vitally still a lifestyle that is centred on the use of modern technology. Plot-wise the film feels limited although it does convincingly introduce other characters including Sylwia’s fitness partner, Klaudiusz (Julian Swiezewski), her mother (Aleksandra Konieczna), the mother’s new companion (Zgibniew Zamachowski) and other members of Sylwia’s family. All of this holds the interest but without possessing quite enough sense of it all coming together meaningfully in a way that will ultimately tell a satisfying story.


If it is easy to appreciate the technical competence on display and to delight in the appeal of Magdalena Koleśnik, it is nevertheless the case that the material itself makes it hard to assess the film for viewers generally. For perhaps two thirds of its length, Sweat seems to be focused on Sylwia’s lifestyle and inner dissatisfaction, but thereafter the figure of the stalker becomes pivotal. I was not quite convinced when Sylwia’s mother reacted so lightly to her daughter’s condemnation of him, but I believed even less in the plot developments that make up the last third of the picture. Possibly some moral drama was intended centred on Sylwia’s own varied reactions (that would fit with this work indirectly carrying a hint of films made by the Polish director Kiéslowski). But for me neither the actions taken nor their apparent impact on Sylwia herself rung true. Perhaps for other viewers they will do so and that would indeed transform the film. But either way Koleśnik emerges as a star.




Cast: Magdalena Koleśnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Tomasz Orpinski, Lech Lotocki, Magdalena Kuta, Dominika Biernat, Katarzyna Dziurska, Wiktoria Filus, Bartosz Sak, Edgar Grishchuk.


Dir Magnus von Horn, Pro Mariusz Wlodarski, Screenplay Magnus von Horn, Ph Michal Dymek, Pro Des Jagna Dobesz, Ed Agnieszka Glinska, Music Piotr Kurek, Costumes Malgorzata Fudala.


Lava Films/Zentropa Sweden/Film i Väst/Canal+/Polish Film Institute/Swedish film Institute-Curzon.
106 mins. Poland/Sweden/France/The Netherlands. 2020. Rel: 25 June 2021. Cert. 15.