Film review: Sweat premiering in South Africa at The European Film Festival 2020

What: Sweat Where: European Film Festival, South Africa 2020 Language: Polish with English subtitles When: November 12-22, 2020Genre: Drama Duration: 105 minutes Premiere: South African premiere Bookings: https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/films/

Sweat (a Poland-Sweden co-production), directed by Magnus von Horn is premiering in South Africa, on the 2020 European Film Festival.  Screenings are online with some in-person community events. Details on the festival site and link below on this post. No charge to watch films at the festival with the exception of I am Greta which is being screened as fundraiser to support a climate change charity (R50 a ticket).

Sweat is part of the Cannes 2020 Official Selection. The festival did not take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The film opens in a shopping mall, with Sylwia Zajac a fitness instructor/motivator leading her “loves” through a group exercise class. At first, I thought I was watching a documentary. It feels “real” – a scene one might see live on Instagram or Facebook but Sweat is not a documentary. It is fiction feature. Sylwia (played by Polish actress Magdalena Kolesnik) is a fitness motivator who has 600 000 followers on Instagram. She uses the platform to market herself, grow her fan-base and push product placement. At the same time, she battles with the separation of the private and public. Diverting from the perfection narrative that she is supposed to project at all times, she shares her loneliness with her fan base. This endears her to them but incurs the wrath of her sponsors and invites criticism from mainstream media. Every moment, she is watching herself, being watched. One might argue that the over-share has been strategically planned and plotted but I don’t think so. I think that the need for intimacy –and that she lacks that personally – pivots her turning to her fans for affirmation.


In interviews, director Magnus von Horn has said that he was fascinated by fitness motivators; adoration and their following on social media. This film is very much of our time – the celebrity of the social media influencer- and the followers hanging on for every post. However, the film goes beyond being a commentary ‘about’ social media.  Magdalena Kolesnik is enchanting as Sylwia –a woman who works hard at her job and I feel cares deeply about making others feel good about their bodies. She is narcissistic and freaks out when she doesn’t get attention at her mother’s birthday party but ultimately she wants to love and be loved. She adores her dog, Jackson (he doesn’t have his own Instagram account but has his own hashtag).

I think that it is a mistake to label this film simply about the perils of social media. There are personal risks of being on social media and this becomes apparent in the story but I won’t plot spoil. Instagram is a marketing platform for this young woman who runs a fitness business. She is using the tools at her disposal. Good for her. I found the film intriguing on many other levels. First up, we see a contemporary and buzzed Poland which is very removed from perceptions that many of us might have of World War II and Cold War Poland. I have been making my way through a bunch of Holocaust memoirs and spy novels in the Cold War period. In my mind I am thinking of Warsaw Ghetto; grey and more grey, dreary landscapes and hunched figures. In this film, we have this upbeat Duracell bunny personality with a warm smile, motivating people (mostly women as evidenced from the film) to work up a sweat – to get the endorphins going. The film harnesses the thrill and the fun of group exercise (I speak from experience). What is wrong with that? It is about youthful aspiration. This is deftly communicated through the juxtaposition of the sleek interiors of Sylwia’s apartment in comparison to her mother’s cramped apartment; crammed with furniture and memorabilia. Perhaps one might say that Sylwia’s life is sterile and that her mother’s is full and rounded. Who is to say? It is a clash of the old versus the new. Sylwia is creating her own life – using social media as a tool. Is she happy? How does one define happiness? Prior to Social Media, celebrity manifested in different forms. 

Director Magnus von Horn and actress Magdalena Kolesnik conjure up a deliciously complex character. It is an up-beat, sassy and vibey film which grapples deftly with celebrity, intimacy and relationships in the age of social media.

* The European Film Festival 2020 is hosting a talk on social media: “Does social media distort our sense of who we are, and alienate us from meaningful relationship with the world and, crucially, with ourselves? Where is it all headed?” Join the Live Zoom discussion at 6pm (CAT – Central African Time), on Monday November 16, 2020 as part of The Special Events Programme. Log in on the Special Events page for access.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Sweat – production credits include:

📽 Director: Magnus von Horn

📽 Producer: Mariusz Włodarski

📽 Cinematography: Michal Dymek

📽 Editing: Agnieszka Glinska

📽 Production design: Jagna Dobesz

📽 Featuring: Magdalena Kolesnik, Julian Swiezewski, Aleksandra Konieczna, Zbigniew Zamachowski


✳ Image credits: Supplied.

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