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Review: The Polish drama ‘Sweat’ bores into the loneliness of a fitness influencer

A fitness influencer gives out high fives from the stage.
Magdalena Koleśnik as fitness influencer Sylwia in the 2020 drama “Sweat.”
(© Natalia Łączyńska / Lava Films )

Isolated exhibitionism is, thanks to social media’s starmaking power, no longer the province of sidewalk lunatics. In Poland-based Swedish filmmaker Magnus von Horn’s crisp, intimate second feature, “Sweat,” about a rising internet celebrity, this uniquely modern personality is given a sympathetically close-bore examination.

First seen leading a rousing mall workout session for a pumped sampling from her hundreds of thousands of followers, fitness guru Sylwia (Magdalena Koleśnik) is a toned, stylish, always-posting whirlwind of nutrition tips, exercise regimens and open-book, open-phone positivity. (Her cheerful mantra is “Work with the body you have, not the body you want.”) Though her agent is concerned that a recent, tearful video despairing of her singlehood might affect her growing sponsorship mojo, Sylwia is bullish that her online influence is burnished by such emotional honesty.

And yet, that one middle-aged male fan (Tomasz Orpinski) who posts dejected confessionals and camps in his car outside her high-rise is becoming a concern, and Sylwia’s birthday visit to her mom (Aleksandra Konieczna) suggests a relationship of unspoken tension. There’s some chemistry with her ripped, flirtatious colleague (Julian Świeżewski), but is he just a distraction?

Unlike the achingly performative schoolgirl at the center of Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” Sylwia is indeed a motivational success, and a long-sought morning show appearance could spell even bigger things. The buildup to that gig creates a natural suspense for Von Horn’s tight timeline, and combined with cinematographer Michał Dymak’s restless, close, verité-esque camerawork and loose scene dramatics, “Sweat” can at times feel like one of those star-sanctioned documentaries that unwittingly capture more than the subject may have intended to reveal.

But there’s also a willful vagueness to the life behind Sylwia’s camera-ready smile that keeps Koleśnik’s magnetic turn from being a complete picture, as if Von Horn wants us unsettled as to whether the Sylwia before or after hitting the “record” button is the true one. Maybe that’s the particular loneliness of the long-distance poster, always turning toward the ring light, hoping it’ll eventually illuminate what’s real.

'Sweat'

In Polish with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday at Laemmle NoHo, North Hollywood; available on Mubi

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