July 25, 2021 6:16:25 am
You don’t need a shrink to tell you that online validation as the preferred instrument to navigate life is strewn with innumerable difficulties. And yet, it seems to have an indelible hold on those who glow only when they are in the sight of other people. It’s almost as if they will vanish if they are left to themselves.
Sweat, streaming on MUBI India, is about Sylwia Zajac, a fictional celebrity fitness trainer, who has 600,000 Instagram “followers”. They work out with her as she leaps and jumps and twists her impossibly fit, toned body into every kind of contortion. The women who wear the same kind of leotards and hairbands, wishing to be a mirror image of their idol, push themselves beyond their limits. Sweating with her, they believe, will give them the glorious body she owns, lightly limned with pretty perspiration even after continuous exercise.
Work with the body you have, not the body you want to have is her motto. The panting, heaving bodies move it, move it, move it. And she keeps up. Till one day she can’t. She can’t keep smiling any more. She can’t keep talking up her “wonderful” life, loaded with TV appearances and endorsements any more. But her fans have no wish to know about the dark side of ephemeral fame.
Magnus von Horn directs his Swedish-Polish film with empathy, never letting us judge Sylwia (played with ferocious acuity by Magdalena Kolesnik) and her burning desire for the spotlight. Because fame is followed by fortune, and who doesn’t want that. What the women who “sweat with her” do not see is her “offline” life, which we are privy to. It is the only time the frantic handheld camera calms down, as it stands still and observes her empty living space which she fills with a pet dog, and the relentless urgency with which she creates “posts” about “unboxing” goodies from her demanding sponsors. We see the boxes of unappetising “health food” she takes along to hearty lunches where she has to make do with sparkling water. I do not eat cake, she tells a character at an uncomfortable birthday party, and it’s about the saddest thing you hear in this thought-provoking film.
Sweat speaks to these times we are living through, when all our physical meet-and-greets have turned into virtual zoom rooms, where we appear to each other in neatly aligned boxes. It also touches upon the troubled zones that “influencers” inhabit, where they themselves are in danger of becoming the “product” they are busy peddling. Where they cannot be seen to be anything else other than impeccably turned out, and always, always happy. Any kind of self-doubt is not for Sylwia, and is that a tear that runs down that chiselled cheek? Idols are not supposed to have clay feet.
Yes, it’s great to get freebies, but the things you have to do in order to keep them coming is another thing entire. There really are no free lunches.
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