Sweat: Magnus von Horn’s Take On The Social Media Influencer Culture

By Deep Guha

Social media influencers are taking up the space that was once occupied by traditional celebrities. But at what personal cost? One of the many answers to this question is at the core of Magnus von Horn’s film Sweat.

The film follows the life of fitness influencer Sylwia Zajac(Magdalena Kolesnik), who is everything you see in a powerful and successful influencer. On the surface is loved by millions, yet on a deeper level, is struggling with her emotional life. Over the course of the film, there are instances where Sylwia’s confidence is trumped by her vulnerability and most of that stems from her personal life. While she puts hours into pouring out content, it is one of her more emotionally vulnerable video’s that is talked over and asked about the most. And we soon get to know where this vulnerability comes from. Her mother(Aleksandra Konieczna) is at odds with her decision to confront her stalker, her fitness partner Klaudiusz(Julian Swiezewski) only cares about getting to sleep with her, and the confrontational sequence is filmed in a quite threatening light. There’s a moment when her stalker sends her a video, apologising, but that video is quite non-antagonistically disturbing. But there are also moments when her fans and family actually try to connect with her emotionally.

The film carefully stays objective, not giving any hints on whether to judge Sylwia or to feel bad for her. It is a decision that is left to the viewers’ discretion. Zajac is someone who pushes herself too hard and perhaps because she has become too big to fall, hence choosing to live under her virtual self’s shadow. The ending sequence ambiguously sums up von Horn’s arthouse tour de force because what you derive from it is on you.

Sweat wears the shortcomings of the modern celebrity culture on its sleeves. It is one of the best takes on the modern influencer culture. Kolesnik as Sylwia is convincing. Swiezewski as Klaudiusz comes off as charming as well as genuinely antagonistic. Horn dictates the film with utter grace, never letting the threads go, and the result is a compelling document with objective social commentary.

Magnus von Horn’s movie is one of those character-driven drama films that need to be discussed in the public sphere time and time again because it does not only show us a glimpse of what lies beneath the influencer culture but rather how audiences should consume the content put out by the influencers. Should we only hold them as obsessive narcissists who only put out content to achieve status and power? Or should we see them in a different light? How should we, as viewers respond to the things they put out? Should the influencers be held responsible for the sometimes cultist behaviour of the fans which often result in social media fights? What are the socio-cultural responsibilities that these influencers should abide and who draws them up? These are some of the broad questions that one should ask themselves, and the film neatly touches upon some of them.

The screenplay by von Horn is commendable and sometimes visceral. Michal Dymek’s cinematography is exactly what the film needs. It complements the narrative perfectly, pace for pace. Piotr Kurek’s music is what creates the fresh modern atmosphere around the film. The art direction and production design of the film too should be up for a round of applause because the world built around Sylvia is perfect, energetic, moody, and at times threatening.

Sweat is currently streaming on MUBI.