Whether we like it or not, social media is running the world. The number of influencers is rising, causing filmmakers to become interested in the topic and try to tackle it in their movies. The problem is that it’s hard to make a film about influencers that feels out of touch with today’s social media culture, most being corny and annoying rather than engrossing. Some even go in the way of satire, but they fail to get their point across due to over-exaggeration like Gia Coppola’s Mainstream (2021), Assassination Nation (2018), and Spree (2020). On the other hand, Magnus von Horn’s latest feature, Sweat, uses that influencer lifestyle in a unique way revolving around trauma and loneliness.
Famous social media star Sylwia (Magdalena Kolesnik) lives a great life. She has almost six hundred thousand followers, a lot of endorsement deals, and was featured on the cover of a magazine. As she continues to share and interact with her fans, the pressure of her success starts to increase. Sponsors start to be concerned and obsessive fans start stalking her, forcing her to confront some of her deepest insecurities in front of the camera.
As mentioned before, there have been a lot of attempts at using social media culture as the core of a film, but most of them don’t work due to using annoyingly eccentric leads and displaying the very worst aspects of said culture. Whether it’s with high energy exaggeration or aching obsessiveness, they try to teach us a “lesson” regarding its use and abuse. However, the films that take a more grounded approach are the ones that we connect with, like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade (2018). Now you could add Magnus von Horn’s sophomore feature to this small list.
Sweat starts with a fitness show that Sylwia is doing with hundreds of fans following along. Immediately after it ends, the film calms down and starts to highlight a deep sense of loneliness that our main character feels. As the audience we know what’s happening behind the scenes and so we see through her smile. It is cracked; faked to keep the illusion to her fans that she’s not fragile. In truth, she is very lonely and seeking someone to care for her, and the fans are that someone.
Even as we meet her cold family we see what she sees: that the only genuine relationship or connection she has is with the camera on her phone. She requires affirmation because she doesn’t have it in her real life. Although the keen sense of the film revolves around solitude and unhappiness versus assertion, some aspects of it don’t click well. This is because the two halves are not well sewn together. The first half was pure observation through her eyes and the second is plot-driven.
Though some aspects of Sweat didn’t work as well as they could have, it still delivers a great perspective of social media, showing the different sides of the person behind the camera. What could seem like a world of narcissism and self-reference, appears instead to be one of sympathy and care for our lead. Even if Magnus von Horn couldn’t tether the two acts perfectly, Magdalena Kolesnik’s performance holds them together. You believe and care for her character, attaching you to a story that you may not have cared much for, but ultimately displaying that many of the people you follow may also feel like this while they are not in the spotlight.
Watch Sweat now on Mubi.