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Sweat Movie Review: A Beautifully Textured Film Conveying the Angst of Modern Living


Director: Magnus von Horn

Cast: Magdalena Koleśnik, Julian Świeżewski

The Cannes Market, which runs along with the Cannes Film Festival got washed out this year owing to Coronavirus pandemic. Now, in a virtual form, it is screening some of the movies that were selected and tagged at Cannes 2020. Magnus von Horn’s second Sweat (which premiered on Tuesday) is his second film to feature at the film festival. The Here After was his first film that played at the Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight in 2015.

Talking of Sweat, the film is an apt portrait of today’s young people who are most comfortable conversing with friends and others over the phone or the internet and shun face to face meetings. In the film, Horn’s protagonist is a Polish fitness instructor – or call her if you may a mood elevator – Sylwia Zajac (Magdalena Koleśnik). She is about 30, lives in Warsaw and has gained enormous celebrity status through her 60,0000 Instagram followers. She invariably talks about herself, and the film traces her life over three days. And many things happen then.

Self-made, and with a figure that her followers die to have, Sylwia, despite her admirers on the net, is lonely. This reminded me of a Naseeruddin Shah movie, called Waiting. His wife is in a coma and has been in the hospital for a long time. And Kalki Koechlin’s character walks into the hospital, her husband having met with an accident. When Kalki’s Tara talks to Shiv Natraj (Shah) about her hundreds of Facebook friends, he asks her why not one of them is there to console her! Similarly, Sylwia realises in the end that she is alone, and this is perhaps what they mean when they say that it is lonely at the top.

But Sylwia is also guilty for her state of affairs. A chance encounter with an old school friend makes her squirm with discomfort. When the friend shares a sad event in her life, Sylwia, who is bristling with radiant energy and full of smiles on camera for her Instagram posts, seems cold and soulless! Later, at a family dinner, she is only happy when the conversation centres on her. The moment it veers away from her, she is unhappy. Life for her is all about herself and her virtual fans.

Sylwia’s life, however, does take a turn when she confronts a stalker, who waits in his car outside her house. And when he is beaten up, Sylwia is upset and takes him to hospital. Something, somewhere begins to connect her to the real world.

Sweat is beautifully textured and conveys the angst of modern living that has become so impersonal. Koleśnik captures this with both joy and sorrow; her fitness lessons on the net are vibrant and she comes off as vivacious. As we go through the 104-minute film, we realise that Sylwia loves the camera, and her hundreds of followers who adore her.

Horn said in a Press note that “emotional exhibitionists fascinate me, probably because I am on the opposite side of that spectrum; I keep my emotions on the inside and rarely share them because I fear being judged. So when I meet people who effortlessly and without shame express themselves I feel envy. On social media I am a passive observer. I observe those who are active, who expose themselves and their feelings. How much is truth? I fantasise about their real lives. What are they like when their cell phone is sleeping? Is there a difference? I started following a fitness motivator and influencer. The amount of photos and videos she posted each day amazed me. Everything from driving home from work, talking about a headache, emotional problems, what to eat for dinner, taking photos of her body, opening gift bags and letting the camera together with all her followers discover what’s inside. She has 600000 followers on Instagram, has been on the cover of bodybuilding magazines and has released a couple of work-out DVDs. Posting and sharing her private life is her job. She is self employed and her product is her body. But who is she the moment before she starts recording herself? Is there a big difference between her on- line and off-line persona?”

He adds: “For me it is about finding enough inspiration to want to write about someone. In the case of my previous work, The Here After, it was a court case about a teenager who had killed his girlfriend. It gave me a unique insight into a boy’s life. That made me want to write about him. In this case, social media has given me that opening. I want to take a closer look and use my own imagination to fill in the gaps. Sylwia is an extremely contemporary character. She is a pragmatic business woman as well as an inspiration to people who want a healthy lifestyle. She is an ambassador for feeling comfortable in your body and being proud of who you are. Accept yourself, she says, but what happens when she has problems accepting herself? When her stalker, Rysiek, enters her life she starts doubting herself, because, in many ways, he’s similar to her”.

Horn leaves us with an open-ended work. Will she or will she not change?

Rating: 4/5

(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival close to three decades)


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