Review: ‘Housekeeping for Beginners,’ starring Anamaria Marinca, Alina Șerban, Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Mia Mustafi and Dżada Selim

April 2, 2024

by Carla Hay

Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Anamaria Marinca and Sara Klimoska in “Housekeeping for Beginners” (Photo by Viktor Irvin Ivanov/Focus Features)

“Housekeeping for Beginners”

Directed by Goran Stolevski

Macedonian, Albanian and Romani with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Skopje, North Macedonia, the dramatic film “Housekeeping for Beginners” features a white and Romani cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A social worker, who is a closeted lesbian and is the head of a household of other LGBTQ adults, tries to find a way to keep her “found family” together after she has to raise the two underage daughters of her deceased lover.

Culture Audience: “Housekeeping for Beginners” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted dramas about “found families” with mostly LGBTQ people as the main characters.

Mia Mustafa in “Housekeeping for Beginners” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“Housekeeping for Beginners” is a “slice of life” film that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers about family life. Filled with emotions that are raw, tender and often repressed, this unusual drama offers a realistic look at a “found family” of LGBTQ people in North Macedonia. The mostly improvised acting performances are stellar, even when the story sometimes wanders.

Written and directed by Goran Stolevski (a filmmaker who is originally from North Macedonia and currently lives in Australia), “Housekeeping for Beginners” had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Queer Lion Award, a prize for LGBTQ movies. “Housekeeping for Beginners” was also North Macedonia’s offical selection for the Best International Feature Film category for the 2024 Academy Awards.

In “Housekeeping for Beginners” (which takes place in Skopje, North Macedonia), a social worker named Dita (played by Anamaria Marinca) is the head of her household. Dita is also a closeted lesbian to almost everyone outside of her household, which has become a safe haven for other LGBTQ people who have been rejected by their biological families. Dita is generous enough to not charge rent to any of the adults in her household.

In the beginning of the movie, there are eight people living in the household, and they will soon be joined by a ninth person. Dita (who is usually calm and level-headed) is living with her lover Suada (played by Alina Șerban), who has an acerbic and sometimes volatile personality. Suada has two daughters from two different deadbeat dads: daughter Vanesa (played by Mia Mustafi) is about 16 or 17 years old, while daughter Mia (played by Dżada Selim) is about 5 or 6 years old.

It’s later mentioned in the movie that the father of Vanesa was a drug addict who died of an overdose. Mia’s father is a drug dealer with a prison record and has not been involved in Mia’s life at all. Dita (whose father is a member of North Macedonia’s Parliament) met Suada because Suada was part of a social worker case that Dita had. Dita (who is originally from the low-income Shutka neighborhood) and her children are Roma. These differences in ethnicities and social classes are often issues in their family.

Also in the household is Dita’s longtime friend Toni (played by Vladimir Tintor), who is openly gay and who works as a medical assistant in a hospital. There are also three queer young women living in the household: Elena (played by Sara Klimoska), Teuta (played by Ajshe Useini) and Flora (played by Rozafë Çelaj), whose personalities are somewhat vague in this movie. It’s a house filled with camaraderie, love and the usual family tensions. But within a short period of time, things will drastically change.

The household gets an unexpected addition in the beginning of the movie: a 19 year-old gay Roma man named Ali (played by Samson Selim, who is Dżada Selim’s father in real life), who spent the night with Toni and doesn’t want to leave. Toni and Ali met on a gay dating app. Mia takes an instant liking to Ali. However, Dita and Suada are very wary of Ali because they meet him under awkward circumstances when Toni left Ali to look after Suada’s daughters.

Suada has pancreatic cancer, which has reached the terminal stage. Dita doesn’t see herself as a maternal type, but Suada insists that Dita take care of Vanesa and Mia after Suada dies. Suada’s death (which is already revealed in the “Housekeeping for Beginners” trailer) happens about 35 minutes into this 107-minute movie.

Complicating matters, North Macedonia does not have laws that allow same-sex marriages or openly gay people to adopt children . Dita is determined to keep her promise to Suada to have the family stay together, so Dita goes to extreme lengths to do it, including coming up with the idea to have Toni marry her. Meanwhile, Vanesa starts to rebel and threatens to run away from home.

“Housekeeping for Beginners” shows the emotional fallout of this pressure-cooker situation, as various family members experience grief and discontent over their lives. The movie doesn’t get preachy about discrimination against LGBTQ people, but it shows in unflinching ways how this discrimination can damage people and relationships. “Housekeeping for Beginners” is at its best when it demonstrates how family plays an important role in shaping people’s identities and loyalties, but family does not have to be defined by biology.

Focus Features will release “Housekeeping for Beginners” in select U.S. cinemas on April 5, 2024.

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