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film review
  • Housekeeping for Beginners
  • Written and directed by Goran Stolevski
  • Starring Anamaria Marinca, Samson Selim and Mia Mustafi
  • Opens April 12

Critic’s Pick

People in constant motion spill over the sides of the frame in Housekeeping for Beginners, the third feature from Macedonian/Australian filmmaker Goran Stolevski, and it takes us a while to figure out how they relate to one another. That’s precisely Stolevski’s point: This slapdash family, making itself up as it goes along, won’t be contained by convention. (A co-production of North Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Poland, Australia and the U.S., it was Macedonia’s entry for this year’s best international feature film Oscar.)

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Social worker Dita’s (Anamaria Marinca, best known for the abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) flat may be cramped, and everyone in it may bicker – her partner Suada (Alina Serban); Suada’s two daughters from different absent fathers, spiky teenager Vanesa (Mia Mustafi) and adorable imp Mia (Dżada Selim); Dita’s gay friend Toni (Vladimir Tintor) and his gentle new lover Ali (Samson Selim); and three queer young women rejected by their biological families. But in present-day Skopje, North Macedonia, riven by social and economic inequities that Stolevski flicks at just enough, it’s a haven.

Until Suada dies at the end of act one. Lesbians can’t legally adopt in Macedonia, so to keep the family together, Dita and Toni must marry and pass for straight. Vanesa, grieving and enraged, acts out and puts them all at risk.

Open this photo in gallery:

From left, Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Anamaria Marinca and Sara Klimoska in a scene from Housekeeping for Beginners.Viktor Irvin Ivanov/The Associated Press

In lesser hands, this chaos might tumble into melodrama or farce. But Stolevski’s actors deliver such naturalistic performances, and he writes such specific dialogue – his own mother was a social worker, his family emigrated to Australia from Macedonia when he was 12, and he calls himself, “shaped but not limited by his queerness” – that you care deeply about what happens to these people. Marinca has perhaps the fewest lines, but her wised-up, weary-but-watchful face says it all.

This family shares “a different kind of love,” Ali reassures little Mia, “but just as strong.” And needing people doesn’t go away, Dita tells Vanesa, “not even when you get old.”

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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