Movie Review: Love triumphs in ‘Housekeeping for Beginners’

Housekeeping for Beginners opens with an off-center picture on a wall. A good metaphor for what's coming. Creator and filmmaker Goran Stolevski creates a unique family portrait that is political without being preachy, loving without being maudlin, and epic by being tiny.  

This intricate drama takes place largely in a mansion near Skopje, North Macedonia's capital, that has become a shelter for LGBT, Roma, or mixed ethnic minorities clashing with sexual minorities in a harsh, conservative culture. “Housekeeping for Beginners” is shot entirely with handheld cameras and subtitles, putting spectators in a chaotic, multigenerational family with no direction.

But Stolevski's use of cinema verite—shaky close-ups, capturing routine things like brushing teeth—and globalization mean we see things we know even in North Macedonia—boring bus commutes, Grindr, the joy of picking up kids from kindergarten, Adidas footwear, and singing loudly to bad pop songs in the living room. Though Serbian pop, it doesn't matter.

Anamaria Marinca, a superb Romanian actress, becomes the fulcrum. Dita is a tough Albanian healthcare worker and den mother with lots of love and patience. Her Roma partner and her two children, her longstanding Albanian gay friend Toni and his younger lover Ali, and several young social exiles who needed a home to find themselves are with her.  

In the first half, Dita's companion Suada confronts a health concern, and the household must cope if she dies. Suada, a single mother, begs Dita to legally adopt her two kids, a moody teen and a joyful 5-year-old. Who knows what will happen to them without legal protection in a denigrated ethnicity?  

Second half of movie portrays motley family trying to pass as normal—Dita and Toni going to parties as a couple, the daughters claiming both adults are their parents. Dita says, “Nothing has to change,” yet the pressure of changing is enormous.  

As the family leaps out of his frame, cinematographer Naum Doksevski's camera twists and swoops. Scenes never finish, only become a chaotic succession of vivid postcards that form an emotional connection as hotheaded actions threaten to tear this family apart.  

In addition to Marinca, Samson Selim is great as Ali's sweet young boyfriend, quickly a guardian and big brother to the youngest daughter, wanting to make her upbringing pleasant and loving, which his eyes suggest he didn't enjoy. Toni, played by stoic slow-burner Vladimir Tintor, powerfully conveys the fear of aging out of love.  

This family will reach a satisfying conclusion, not a neat one. The bits may fly apart like magnets, yet grudging admiration and appreciation keep them together. In Brazil and the Balkans, it's love.  

It may surprise viewers that the film, set in North Macedonia, might have been staged anywhere. Australia was initially considered by Macedonian Stolevski. In the end, what happens in the house counts more than its location. Focus Features' “Housekeeping for Beginners” is rated R for “sexual content, language throughout and some teen drinking.” Runtime: 107 minutes. Three and a half stars.  

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