ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS. In the spectrum of growing up [REVIEW]

What can Absolute Beginners surprise you with?

Mary Kosiarz

27 October 2023

Absolute Beginners, a new addition to Polish Netflix available for streaming from Wednesday, October 25th, is a modest title that didn’t receive much promotion on the platform. It’s a pity because the series by Kamila Tarabura and Katarzyna Warzecha stands out among other domestic coming-of-age productions. In just six episodes, the creators decided to accumulate a wealth of challenging emotions, address topics still hushed and unfamiliar among Poles, and most importantly, they did it unpretentiously, naturally, and with genuine class. The series initially raised concerns due to the mentioned themes, particularly the spectrum of autism in one of the main characters, which hasn’t been explored much on the Polish small screen. However, both the authors and the actress playing the role of Lena managed to create a credible portrayal of the adolescence of individuals different from the rest. What else can Absolute Beginners surprise you with?

Revolution, camera, action! The Polish seaside, a hot summer, the last carefree months before embarking on a new stage in Lena’s (Martyna Byczkowska) and Niko’s (Bartłomiej Deklewa) lives. This duo has been almost inseparable since childhood – at one point, it’s even stated that they are too close to each other. They know each other’s fears, every weakness, and perhaps, it is because of this that they form such a cohesive pair of friends for better or for worse. This summer, they have one crucial goal: to shoot an artistic film that will be their ticket to the film school of their dreams. They roam the city in 19th-century costumes, search for charming locations, and sometimes struggle to portray unhappy lovers. However, for Lena, the pivotal point of the entire endeavor is not empty words but an erotic scene, which she persuades her friend to do. It’s a moment when their long-standing relationship, almost like siblings, is put to the test. The young ones are unsure whether they should take the risk and try something more than friendship. Especially since Lena is not a neurotypical, easy-to-understand girl – being on the autism spectrum, she experiences the world differently, often fixates on one thing (like the sex scene with her friend), and it’s sometimes challenging for her to grasp things that are obvious to others, and vice versa. These summer experiences will make her realize a lot and prove what she should really pursue in life. The second part of the story introduces Igor’s (Jan Sałasiński) tale, a novice basketball player who spectacularly enters the lives of the young filmmakers. His appearance will change absolutely everything for Lena and Niko, and for Igor himself, it might be a reason to redefine his life goals. Together, their film will gain additional value, and Niko will realize why he couldn’t overcome the intimacy barrier with Lena.

A beautiful postcard from the coming-of-age period has been sent to Netflix viewers by Kamila Tarabura and Katarzyna Warzecha. Absolute Beginners is sincere from start to finish, radiating warmth, a combination of childish naivety and simultaneous awareness that these are the last carefree moments before entering entirely new life paths. The plot focuses on this unique post-high school period when everything can still change, plans can undergo drastic modifications, and our heroes are susceptible to internal revolutions. What sets Absolute Beginners apart from other coming-of-age productions? Above all, it’s the simplicity of the narrative style while simultaneously focusing on inclusive, challenging, and moving themes, sentimentality, the truth emanating from the screen, and the entire spectrum of teenage emotions conveyed in an exceptionally accessible, unexaggerated, and credible manner. Of course, one can nitpick the more or less successful attempt to reproduce the language of contemporary teenagers in the script, but this is a challenge faced by most Polish productions about young adults, and after a while, we get used to the idyllic, sometimes slightly awkward form of the script.

The spotlight is on the young generation of actors, stealing the show for themselves. A significant burden rested particularly on Martyna Byczkowska, whose task was to portray a neuroatypical character in a way that viewers unfamiliar with the specifics of the autism spectrum could extract more from the series, broaden their horizons, and open up to differences. She executed this task excellently – Lena, in her interpretation, is unique, fearless, and at the same time full of contradictions and not always understood even by those closest to her. Byczkowska does not judge but understands her character, giving a truly impressive display of her skills and allowing viewers to better understand the mind of a person on the spectrum. The rest of the cast also performs admirably – Sałasiński’s casting as Igor is a bullseye, as is Bartłomiej Deklewa, whose Niko is charming, sensitive, and has several important messages to convey. Together, they create a dream team that gains new colors and ecstatic emotions with each episode, helping teenagers deal with problems and making these last summer vacations unforgettable (also for the viewers).

Native small screen delivers Absolute Beginners is not just about the problems of teenagers but also about the prosaic lives of their parents, who also experience their crises, more or less successfully masking them from the kids. It’s a bittersweet story about what’s most important, what arouses concerns in the lives of young adults and their surroundings, and ultimately, what propels them forward and gives them strength to overcome daily difficulties. The authors nostalgically take us to a summer full of dreams, carefreeness, and opportunities for the future – how the characters will use them, you will find out from watching “Absolute Debutantes.” Certainly, it’s not a production that will open your eyes to something you didn’t know about the world of Polish young adults before, but it’s worth delving into such titles on Polish Netflix that don’t operate with bias and don’t take the easy way out – in this case, we have a modest but ambitious production with several universal lessons about growing up, friendship, and even failed adult relationships. It’s worth setting aside the October gloom for these 6 episodes and, along with Lena, Niko, and Igor, reminiscing about the intoxicating moments of summer – especially when the creators provide us with emotion, a healthy dose of humor, and reflections that cannot be ignored.

In addition to the acting talents, we can also admire a few genuinely successful frames, charming set design, vibrant color saturation emanating from the screen, and listen to a catchy soundtrack. Absolute Beginners is a well-crafted production that will play with your emotions and will certainly be remembered as a small series about big dreams and emerging stars of Polish acting. It’s worth paying attention to such titles – I’m sure we’ll hear much more about Byczkowska and her colleagues from the set very soon. And the directorial duo of Warzecha and Tarabura better prepare something new for us because their creative efforts are admired with genuine pleasure.

Mary Kosiarz

Mary Kosiarz

Far from keeping her feet firmly on the ground, she has sold her artistic soul to books and cinematography. Fascinated by Meryl Streep and an avid fan of unconventional film endings. In her free time, she educates about mental health and recommends her favorite books and screens.

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