Goran Stolevski Interview – Director of ‘Housekeeping for Beginners’ / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase


A family dinner in Dita’s (Anamaria Marinca) household always proves to be a rowdy affair. This home features a raucous rotating cast of young misfits who come together as an LGBTQ+ found family Skopje, North Macedonia.

The dysfunctional family portrait revolves around Dita taking in the two children of her deceased lesbian lover (Alina Serban) – half-sisters rebellious teen Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) and child chatterbox Mia (Dzada Selim). Dita pulls together an ad-hoc family, marrying her gay roommate (Vladimir Tindor), to be parents to the two children while living with her faux husband’s gay lover and three goth lesbians.

Macedonian-born filmmaker Goran Stolevski’s heartwarming Housekeeping for Beginners explores the interplay between national, sexual, and interpersonal identity in this makeshift family. Following the folk horror You Won’t Be Alone and queer romance Of An Age, Stolevski’s third feature is a poignant domestic drama.

Stolevski sat down with Projektor to discuss crafting this story of queer found family, finding light in the darkness, and how he directed actors who didn’t know the Macedonian language.

Projektor: Housekeeping for Beginners lovingly orbits the idea of a queer-found family. What was it about this topic that interested you?

Goran Stolevski: Initially, it was a queer household in a time and place where it’s not that easy to be gay. I was looking for that sense of a sanctuary where you get to live your life to the fullest within a society that isn’t friendly to you.

I grew up in a house with multiple generations, there were six of us in a two-bedroom apartment, and that doesn’t even count the 47 cousins and neighbors that came in and out. People watch this film and go: “What a crazy household!” But this is just reality for most of the world, not just Macedonia.

In writing [Housekeeping for Beginners] and living life out within these characters’ mindsets, I realized the family dynamics [were] universal. With queer families, you can be blunt rather than just performing roles. You can get to the essence of things in a way that comments not just ‘average’ family but also on the alternatives that exist. I feel like it can be a bigger story, ironically, for being a minority one.

Housekeeping for Beginners is rather different from your previous films; this is a portrait of lesbian motherhood and young women. What was your approach to crafting these specific voices?

Housekeeping for Beginners is also different from my next two films. All my films, for all their differences, end up being my personality split between two people. In the first version [You Won’t Be Alone] it happened to be two witches in the 19th century. Last time [Of An Age] it was two gays that looked like me in suburban Melbourne. In this one, my brain is initially Suada and then it shifts to Deia and Vanesa.

Since I was little, I was supposed to have a particular personality based on my demographics assigned at birth. There were limitations to how I felt or who I was. I’m drawn to people who either submit to it wholeheartedly or resist in a way that’s “unlikable.” Those are the characters I keep writing.

Especially in the case of Vanesa, I understood her in a way that she didn’t have to be nice or likable to me. I didn’t want to try and make her palatable for the audience. Mia [Mustafa] had never acted before. I was so grateful to her for coming on board this film, which was a tricky proposal in Macedonia today.

“All my films, for all their differences, end up being my personality split between two people.”

In your film, queer characters encounter deeply dark issues, but there’s a distinct sense of high-energy playfulness that also lingers. What was your intention around this fluctuating tone?

Again, that’s a pattern. I like stories about people who are trapped in a situation they can’t escape. In looking at a dark story, it will have lightness in it. In the same way I don’t like a color scheme that just programs one particular color or shade, I don’t like a story that just programs one feeling. I want all the colors and all the feelings in my stories.

In [Housekeeping for Beginners] a lot of the heavy aspects of the story clear quickly. I get questions about the death of one of the main characters, which happens early in the film, saying: “You skip across a lot of the most difficult scenes.” With characters of a minority, whether that be ethnic or sexual orientation, we’ve seen them suffer – even the Oscars don’t give them prizes anymore because it’s just familiar!

Queerness being isolated from the rest of society [means] when two people connect, the electricity between them is so specific to being a queer person. The upside of being oppressed is this emotional bonus that no one else gets access to. In this case, being able to build your own family as a queer person with it being a choice rather than something that’s imposed.

You managed to capture the emotional weight of that in an unspoken manner, which showcases how powerful your directorial style is.

I thank you for that because it’s always a battle with each of my screenplays. There’s a lot that you can’t [communicate] in a screenplay because it’s someone looking at someone else with particular weight in their eyes.

I always have to constantly be arguing notes that say: “Where’s this aspect of the relationship?” I always say that will come through. Dialogue needs to be interesting for itself but it can’t be the full story of a scene. You have to have two or three stories going on at the same time because if the dialogue is just narrating the story, then why do we need to watch it?

The unspoken dialogue, that happens just in the eyes, is much more important. It’s the core of the film and thank you for connecting with it because what’s disturbing now is how often people will just see what’s being said and just leave it at that and not look for the other story.

I read that your film’s stars, Anamaria Marinca and Alina Serban, learned their lines phonetically. How was that process as a writer-director?

The women who play Dita and Suada are both Romanian and are speaking Macedonian as well as Roma in Albanian, respectively. These are all foreign languages to them. Anna Maria who plays Dita is my friend of many years. When she came on board we went through the screenplay, syllable by syllable. The way you examine and interrogate a screenplay on set, we had to do it in advance because a lot of it had to be set in stone in a way I don’t normally like to do.

As things were happening on set, I could throw a line in Macedonian at them. I give little pieces of direction within a take and we keep things quite fluid in a documentary style so they can kind of be absorbed in real time. It was a beautiful experience, not just emotionally for us as a memory but also creatively added to what the viewer experiences.

Housekeeping for Beginners is in theatres from April 5th.

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