‘Housekeeping For Beginners’ Review – Life In All Its Glory / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase


All families are unlikely mixes of people, but they are unlikely in their own ways. In familial constellations, there is no fitting; rather, there are tensions and compromises, in which everyone strives to find their place. Whether bound by blood or housing, parents and children always try to break away from the traps of normativity, even if oftentimes they end up confirming the patriarchal paradigm. 

For the characters in Goran Stolevski’s Housekeeping for Beginners, there is no such danger: the house they reside in on the outskirts of Skopje is anything but heteronormative. It’s run by Dita (Anamaria Marinca), who not only shares her home with longtime friend Toni (Vladimir Tintor) and his 19-year-old boyfriend Ali (Samson Selim); she also lives with her Roma girlfriend Suada (Alina Serban) and her two daughters from previous relationships—antsy teen Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) and her little sister Mia (Dzada Selim). A delightfully chaotic household that’s also unapologetically queer is at the heart of Stolevski’s third feature.

The North Macedonian-Australian filmmaker’s sensibility is at once universal and local, so it’s no surprise that he’s already on the map as one of the bravest, most talented young filmmakers working today. In just a couple of years, he’s managed to premiere three different—but complementary—films that tap into the ineffable depths of the human experience: the fairytale-tinted horror You Won’t Be Alone (which also features Marinca), the queer romantic drama Of an Age, and now the rowdy comic melodrama Housekeeping for Beginners. The first two films opened in international festivals, while his latest, Housekeeping, recently held its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in the Orizzonti sidebar, where it won the Queer Lion prize. 

Working across genres is one thing, but the breadth of his directorial range is measured in emotional octaves. For its rambunctious opener, the new film relies on catchy Macedonian pop-folk music sung at the top of Ali and Vanesa’s lungs as they jump and twirl like there’s no tomorrow. This scene, where they turn a messy living room into a stage and an afternoon into showtime, sets the tone of what’s to follow: a joyride with just a smidge of melancholy. At the same time in a hospital across town, Suada receives a cancer diagnosis: it’s pancreatic, untreatable, and the prognosis is dire. By intertwining present glee and future loss in less than ten minutes, the film already presents its emotional maturity as true to life and ample for great cinema. 

“Working across genres is one thing, but the breadth of his directorial range is measured in emotional octaves.”

For a while, we follow Dita, the person everyone gravitates to. In addition to her extended “family,” she also welcomes several queer women to dinner every evening and they all become one and the same social organism. Even when they bicker and call each other names, everyone is full of love. It’s tough and involves a lot of swearing, but that’s typical of true Balkan love.

Eventually, however, the subsequent moral conflict delivers a hard punch to the plot’s playful fluctuation. Suada forces Dita to promise she’ll raise the girls as her own, but both Dita and the children reject the proposition. We arrive at an emotive standstill, as Suada’s time is ticking and there’s nothing much to be done because things are literally life or death. Marinca plays Dita with a distinctive stoicism that counters Serban’s explosive Suada. And even though they share relatively little screen time, we as the audience can’t help but grow fond of their opposing intimacy. From the little character background given, we can make out their backstory as follows: Dita, as a social worker, was sent to a place on the outskirts of the Macedonian capital Skopje, called Suto Orizari, or Shutka, where she first met Suada as a local. The name comes up in the film and we get to see the location on screen, but it’s never explained that because of its Roma population, the municipality is the only local administrative unit in the world to have adopted Romani as an official language. Iconic and linguistically autonomous, Shutka is a symbol for these characters, even if they relate to it with palpable ambivalence (which is also very much a Balkan trait).

By welcoming improvisations and foregoing the traditional rehearsal process, Stolevski seeks a more authentic truth within the confines of fiction, if one may even find these words fitting for an imaginary opposition. He reunites with cinematographer Naum Doksevski, who shot the director’s acclaimed 2017 short Would You Look at Her, and proposes a rather ‘verité’ kind of style that utilizes naturalistic lighting and a handheld camera with a rack focus to draw the audience in. Intensity is a keyword for Stolevski’s style, as he also carefully edits his own work and oversees the developments and the punctures within every scene. Collapsing the distance between character and audience is something Stolevski seems particularly dedicated to. In tandem with Doksevski, they let life flow through the camera, conditioned only by the aesthetics of life in all its glory.

When taking part in these characters’ emotional journeys—and there are multiple, both characters and the journeys—one cannot help but consider whether it’s possible to be a mother against your own will. As a result, one asks: What is motherhood? Does it come down to providing a name, a roof, and a bed for a child? Is it undying support or money? Is it wiping their tears, is it helping them tell good from bad? All these acts involve exposing oneself completely and relying on one’s vulnerability to shine as a strength. It’s a journey, not a given, but it’s one you would want to stick around for, no matter if and when it ends.

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