It is not very often that Netflix brings teen dramas from Poland, but Absolute Beginners, or Absolutni debiutanci, is almost a rare find in Netflix’s Polish directory, mostly filled with action flicks. Set over six episodes, the series presents the coming-of-age story of two best friends, Lena and Niko, who are determined to pursue a filmmaking course at their dream film school. While shooting for a short admissions film for the school, the two meet Igor, whose dreams and aspirations are very different but who is also at the same exciting age of life as them. With good performances and visuals and an overall poignancy that has the desired effect on viewers, Absolute Beginners is a genuinely impressive watch.
Plot Summary: What is the series about?
Absolute Beginners starts off with a brief scene in the city, where Lena is excited to drive to the seaside to spend the summer weeks. Lena’s very first introduction is as an enthusiast filmmaker, for she is ready with a screenplay for her short film titled “On Love. Briefly.” Her best friend since childhood, Niko, also shares the same interest and enthusiasm, and the entire plan for the summer is soon revealed. Lena and Niko are both hoping to be selected for a filmmaking course at an established film school, and they have to submit an admissions film as part of their application. Lena’s short film is supposed to serve this very purpose, and together with the help of Niko, she wants to shoot the film of her life at the Polish seaside in the coming summer days.
Despite her mother Tamara and her boyfriend Dawid also heading to the same vacation house, Lena decides not to travel with them but instead with Niko and his parents. Lena is seemingly closer to her best friend’s parents, Bogusia and Pawel, than to her own mother, and this is because of the sheer amount of time that she spends with Niko. Along with their journey towards the seaside town, Lena and Niko’s shoot also begins, and they continue with their screenplay after settling in at the place as well. All goes well until an intimate scene needs to be shot, which Lena has written too realistically and also wants to actually perform in front of the camera. Although they have grown up together and are so close, Niko has his objections to performing such acts in front of the camera.
While the best friends have an argument about the matter, they come close to a third young man, named Igor, who has also been spending the summer in the seaside town. But unlike Lena and Niko, Igor has no interest in making films and is instead focused on his basketball career. Although Lena is convinced that Igor would be a perfect fit to act in their film, Igor does not pay any heed to this and just focuses on the basketball camp that he is here for.
How does Lena’s, Niko’s, and Igor’s friendship develop into a love triangle?
At the crux of Absolute Beginners is definitely the coming-of-age story of Lena, Niko, and Igor, each of whom go through explorations with regards to love, emotions, and sexuality. Lena being on the autism spectrum means that all her feelings and the expression of them are very heightened and extreme. There is no denying the fact that her writing the intimate scene with such detail is because of her own desire to share such an exciting moment with someone, and her first choice is Niko. Not only is Niko the closest person to her and also a professional colleague, so to speak, but there is also an emotional connection between the two. Lena and Niko are in love, despite not directly addressing it for a very long time. But then, as is characteristic of the teenage years, this love is not necessarily the same steady and constant emotion that is expected from adults. There is constant change, mixed with confusion, in this teenage love, as well as the fear of losing their friendship. This is precisely the reason why Niko refuses to get intimate with Lena in front of the camera, saying that he cherishes their friendship too much to put it at risk. While he implies that getting intimate would change the dynamics of their relationship, there is also a hint of confused sexuality behind his unwillingness.
Lena has had a different upbringing from Niko, and together with her different perspective on matters of life, she simply has no inhibitions with regard to sex. Although she tries to convince everyone that the intimate scene is absolutely needed for the quality of her admissions film, it is easy to understand that this is her way of exploring this new excitement in life. She does not easily register or readily agree with the reason that Niko gives her, for she is sure that intimacy would only make their relationship better. The refusal makes Lena wonder whether she is not attractive enough, but she also does not spend much time with these thoughts. The short film is extremely close to her, and it is all that keeps her going in some situations. When Dawid tells her that she and Niko are too close to each other, she tries to build some distance for some time, but then also realizes when it does not work out.
Lena and Niko get introduced to Igor in a relatively strange manner at the seaside town. Although the two sides first see each other on the beach when Lena cannot shoot on the beach because of Igor and his teammates, this meeting is too short. It is later on one night, when Lena and Niko spot Igor drowning in the sea and save him, that they get more acquainted. Igor is not very open to them even after this, and it is only gradually that he develops a friendship with them. Igor’s character is initially totally dedicated to keeping up the male stereotype, and he is almost like a foil to Niko, who is considered unmanly by people like Dawid.
Igor wants to get selected for the senior ranks of basketball so that he can build a career in the sport. In order to ensure this without leaving any chance of failure, he employs a shady unethical plan by photographing his coach in a drunk and beaten state. Igor then uses this photo to blackmail the coach into arranging for a meeting with a senior team scout. Lena and Niko do have almost an immediate effect on Igor, but he stays away from them only because he fears being associated with them would distance him from his teammates. This happens as well when Igor’s closest teammates also make fun of him and have a fight only because of his decision to act in Lena’s film.
Once Igor is convinced by the protagonist’s shooting plan and decides to be closer friends with the two, his inhibitions also fall away. Igor first develops a bond of friendship, which also seems laced with attraction towards Lena, all of which culminate to the moment when he agrees to the intimate scene for the film. Although Igor starts to romance with Lena as part of the screenplay, Niko soon becomes a part of it, and it is the two young men who share the most chemistry. As Lena claims, the friendship has truly turned into a love triangle, except for the fact that none of these feelings are very solid or permanent. Ultimately, by the end of Absolute Beginners, it seems like Niko has been in love with Lena, but in the most friendly way, without much sexual attraction for his friend. Igor’s emergence works as a means for Lena to get what she desires, but it ultimately works in favor of Niko as the two men seemingly start a relationship.
How do the parents also reach their own realizations?
Along with the younger generation, Absolute Beginners also throws light on the apparent non-beginners, or the parents, who still struggle to manage the various complications in their lives. Lena’s mother, Tamara, comes off as very detached and almost unbothered about her daughter, which is evident from the fact that Lena chooses Bogusia over her at any moment. At present, Tamara has planned to leave Poland with her boyfriend Dawid and settle in Italy instead, starting their own business. Tamara never seems interested in making Lena a part of this new life of hers, and when asked about it, she states that she knows Lena would not want to move. However, in the end, she admits that she had never even asked Lena whether she would actually want to move.
Lena, too, is of the opinion that her mother had always wanted to leave Poland but could not do so because of her. As she claims, Tamara is moving to Italy only now because Lena is now finally about to be an adult, and so she won’t be legally dependent on her mother. Although Tamara does not agree with this, it can very well be a possibility, especially since she has been waiting for Lena to make it through at the film school. In some instances, it is Dawid who is more concerned about Lena’s well-being, despite not having any blood ties with the girl. By the end, Dawid also breaks down and reveals that he, too, does not want to move to Italy right away, and this show of sensitivity by the man who was otherwise always tough and reserved changes Tamara’s mind as well. She decides to cancel her plan to leave Poland for the time being.
As part of her plan to move to Italy, Tamara and Dawid were also in talks about selling off the vacation home that they co-own in the seaside town. This soured the relationship between them and the other parents, and co-owners, Bogusia and Pawel. Niko’s parents do not want to sell the house and are also slightly concerned about their financial condition, but since Tamara wants it sold, they, too, have to agree to it. Tamara and Bogusia, who are very close childhood friends, have a disagreement and fall out over this very decision, but they also manage to make up for it. It is Tamara to whom Bogusia reveals about her newfound love and her boyfriend.
Bogusia and Pawel’s marriage is in contrast to Tamara and her relationship with Dawid, for in the latter’s case, everything is out in the open. Niko’s parents are slightly more conventional, and so he has a horrible shock when he finds out about his mother’s extramarital affair. Even Pawel and Bogusia themselves are surprised by how things pan out in their lives, but this sudden revelation has a tremendously bad effect on their son. Despite all their efforts to lovingly hold on to their marriage, doing all the right things in conventional ways still does not make it a certainty that the relationship will last forever. Instead of hiding their feelings and the truth of their situation any longer, the couple decides to end their marriage in the end.
Does Lena get selected for the film school? What happens to Niko and Igor?
During Absolute Beginners‘ ending, the trio falls out with regards to the intimate scene that has been shot. Igor did not want it to be kept in the film, and Niko later convinced him. But Niko then did not want to betray Igor’s trust, and so he did not want the shots to be kept, while Lena considered them very integral for all this while. After Niko finds out about his mother’s affair, he and Lena have a misunderstanding, as he feels that she is too emotionally dependent on him. Lena takes away the camera and the memory card on which the intimate scene was shot and goes away to be with her mother in a hotel room. Although Tamara tells her that she should include any scene whatsoever in order to make her film good, Lena decides not to keep the intimate scene. Instead, she edits a cut of her film without it, which she then shows to Niko once they reestablish their friendship.
Like always before, it is Niko who gives Lena the confidence and the courage to add her own voice to the short film, which makes it more impactful. Lena’s film turns out to be about the very same confusion that love brings in life, as is the subject of Absolute Beginners. She is seen on the day of admissions at the film school, as Lena explains her perspective on making the film as someone on the autism spectrum. In the end, she is selected for the filmmaking course, making Lena celebrate wildly along with a new friend that she has made at the school.
Meanwhile, Niko had secretly applied for medical school to become a dentist like his mother and had been selected for it, too. As it turns out, filmmaking was not the profession Niko wanted to be in, but he had supported his best friend throughout her endeavor without letting her know about it. While Lena gets closer to her passion, Niko finds love in Igor as he meets him to seemingly start an official relationship. Igor, too, realizes that he does not want to be a corrupt soul who gets whatever he desires through blackmail, so he deletes the compromising photo of the coach. He does get called up to the senior team because of his performance at the end of the game, but Igor no longer wants to put all his attention on basketball. With his mother and brother, who have come to visit, and also with Niko by his side, Igor seems to take a step away from the sport for a moment and cherish the time he gets with them.