Housekeeping for Beginners – first-look review

Stepping into the household of healthcare worker Dita (Anamaria Marinca) can be a little disorienting at first. Nameless people bust in and out of rooms in loud, overlapping conversations, a frenzied state that only helps blur the lines between the relationships that co-exist within the large residence they all share in the North Macedonian capital of Skopje.

We get to know these relationships through the eyes of cheerful Ali (Samson Selim), who wakes up in the big house after a one-night stand with much older Toni (Vladimir Tintor). The young man finds no discomfort in the unknown, turning the living room into a dance floor and pulling the house’s youngest residents – little chatterbox Mia (Dzada Selim) and moody teen Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) – into a dancing session to the catchy beats of Konstrakta’s ‘In Corpore Sano’, the 2022 Serbian Eurovision entry. Ali’s breezy buoyancy clashes with Dita’s guarded sternness, but eventually mellows the woman, the boy acting as a welcome breath of fresh air at a time when Dita is faced with sudden loss and the weighty responsibilities that come with it.

Goran Stolevski’s Housekeeping for Beginners is best enjoyed without much knowledge of the tangled lines that connect the characters who pass through the doors of the house. It is, at its core, a film about found family and the unexpected roles we find ourselves playing thanks to life’s woes and serendipities. It is a film about survival and assimilation, too, exploring themes of queerness and guilt that Stolevski touched upon in Of An Age while also seeing the director return to his home country following the folk horror You Won’t Be Alone.

Housekeeping for Beginners is Stolevski’s most emotionally mature outing yet, and trips only in rhythm. The director is unable to concisely organise an ever-expanding pool of subplots, diluting the moving nature of the story with a nagging need to prod at what is best left unsaid. The idea of a safe house at the heart of North Macedonia is an interesting enough foundation for an examination of the country’s treatment of its queer people, and even more so when coupled with the discrimination suffered by the Romani in the country. Ali sits at this thorny intersection but is never allowed to exist beyond the box of a nifty narrative device, a waste of not only a fertile storyline but a stellar turn by newcomer Selim.

Still, there are many greatly moving moments in the director’s third feature, all connected by a heartfelt understanding of the value of nurturing companionship. Love, within Dita’s crowded household, manifests itself in many ways. It can be found on the long dining table where deep food bowls share space with old cigarette ashes, in clothes drying side by side under the scorching sun, and in the prompt, life-changing leaps taken by those who have spent a life loving and grieving in painful solitude. These moments are sparse and often clunkily framed but effective nonetheless, a testament to Stolevski’s poignant ode to the radical potential of camaraderie.

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