Review by Sean Boelman
Lots of films try to tackle issues that are timely and relevant, but few manage to pull it off in a way that doesn’t feel disconnected to some extent. Magnus von Horn’s confident character study Sweat is a mostly captivating film, exploring its themes in a way that both creates a compelling atmosphere and poses some interesting questions.
The film follows a fitness influencer with a massive social media following who, despite the adoration of her fans and employees, struggles to find true intimacy in her life. It’s a rather one-note character study, but the thing that allows it to stand out is how it feels like it is fundamentally a film made for the moment we are going through now.
There’s a lot to be said about the way in which interaction has changed since social media has become dominant, but the thing that holds most satires back is that they tend to be overly paranoid cautionary tales. Magnus von Horn’s script explores both the good and the bad of the social media generation in a way that makes it feel much more representative of reality.
The protagonist of the film has a satisfying amount of nuance. When it comes to a character that is on such a completely different wavelength, it would be very easy for them to come across as annoying. Yet von Horn presents the character in a way that is empathetic and peels back the curtain early enough on her showy personality for the audience to connect with the story.
Magdalena Kolesnik gives an absolutely breathtaking performance in her leading role. Her ability to switch from a bright and cheery online persona to a more muted and down-to-earth one is thoroughly impressive. She absolutely sells every moment she is in, no matter how exaggerated it might be.
In the director’s chair, von Horn brings a very accomplished style to the film. Starting with the very kinetic opening scene, it’s clear that what van Horn is doing here will be something interesting. And as layer upon layer is peeled back and darker things are revealed, the style of the film goes along with itto great effect.
The film’s substantial flaw is that it ends up being somewhat one-note. The first thirty minutes or so are intriguing as we are drawn into the protagonist’s spiraling world, and it definitely sticks the landing, but there is a middle section that drags quite a bit. While this portion is adequately distressing, it doesn’t hold the viewer’s attention as much as the rest of the film.
Sweat succeeds where a lot of other social media satires have failed, and while there are some moments that lose their momentum, it’s still a very impressive film. It’s a fascinating European art film that cinephiles will eat up.
Sweat is now in theaters and hits Mubi on July 23.