‘Housekeeping for Beginners’: Goran Stolevski Captures the True Meaning of Family in Moving Drama About Queer Life in Macedonia

Goran Stolevski is quickly becoming one of those rare filmmakers who tackle different stories but each one is brimming with something personal. “Housekeeping for Beginners” continues Stolevski’s exploration of sexuality, underdogs and class through a family’s struggles in North Macedonia. Those living on the margins always find it difficult to live in the most basic ways, such as starting a family or having a partner. When society deems your way of being as somehow in error simple human interactions take on a lot of danger. Here Stolevski celebrates what the idea of family should truly be beyond mere DNA. As social beings, we can only stand against prejudice and terror by sticking together. In this movie, that’s not some romantic concept, but a question of survival.

Dita (Anamaria Marinca) is a social worker sharing a home with her partner, Suada (Alina Serban). When Suada is diagnosed with a terminal cancer, the racism of the system becomes apparent in the carelessness of doctors who see her as another Roma, an ethnic group long harassed all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Them being lesbians doesn’t help. Suada begs Dita to adopt her daughters, teen Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) and younger Mia (Džada Selim). But lesbians are not allowed to adopt, so Dita has to fake a marriage with a gay housemate, Toni (Vladimir Tintor), who is currently seeing the slightly younger Ali (Samson Selim). But how does one sustain such a façade in a prejudiced world? Emotions boil over as the family tries to keep it together amid the threat of the state barging in.

“The first moment of inspiration for this was when a friend of mine posted a photograph on social media of an older filmmaker from his youth in Melbourne, from when he first moved there with his boyfriend. There were eight lesbian women living there too,” Stolevski, himself Macedonian and gay, tells Entertainment Voice. “My heart started thumping and I thought ‘I want to go there right now.’ And it was just a shot of their day to day life.” Stolevski’s cinema always vibrates with the feel of life being lived in the moment, even in his memorable 2022 debut, “You Won’t Be Alone,” a stark period film about witchcraft and gender transformation. A versatile director, in 2023 he made “Of an Age,” a beautifully simple film about two gay men who meet in 1999 Australia, haunted by the universal question of what could have been. We feel as if we’re in the car with them as they discuss life and reveal small details about each other. 

“Housekeeping for Beginners” expands on that technique, refusing to cater to plot convention and breathe as a true slice of life film. We hope this new family doesn’t get found out, which adds tension, but it really is more about those moments where Ali bonds with Mia, Vanesa grows restless and goes out to seek her grandmother among the Roma slums, or Toni’s rough exterior struggles with his new arrangement. Everyone is stuck together in this house with their sex lives, scars and hopes. Isn’t that any family arrangement in a way? Every member brings something different to the house, creating a mixture of moods and personalities. It becomes more difficult because Dita and Toni have to put on a strained performance 24/7 out in public by attending gatherings, reminding the girls to act as if these two are their parents. A late night knock at the door by the cops means everyone scrambling to put on the proper appearance. “In most of the world this story still makes sense,” says Stolevski, “it’s very complicated to be gay and still live your best life possible. You end up forming a family dynamic in your own space. I wanted to follow the highs and lows of that without wallowing too much in messaging.”

“I wanted to know what ordinary life and universal feelings are like for people in this situation,” the director says. Stolevski’s cinema attains the universal power of directors like Ken Loach because he seeks to tell stories with characters who don’t look or behave like flashy movie stars. Their house is the real thing and not the glossy homes Hollywood makes us believe anyone can have. The actors evoke the feel of lives that could be lived today in East L.A. or working class London. The casting tops off the almost documentary feel. Džada Selim is surely one of the year’s best child actor revelations, giving Mia a special exuberance Ali feels compelled to protect by assuring her this is a wonderful world, despite the adults having breakdowns. “The veterans or older actors, for lack of a better word, in the household are professional actors and seasoned,” says Stolevski, “but our casting directors made inroads in the Roma community photographed literally hundreds of candidates. Samson, who plays Ali, had done high school plays when he was little. Mia, who plays Vanesa had won a singing competition, belting out Beyoncé at 14. But it was difficult because in Macedonia proposing a story with gay characters involving children is extremely controversial. I was lucky all my first choices were happy to be in it.” 

Conservatives are so obsessed with the idea of “family values” that the word itself has been terribly distorted. “Housekeeping for Beginners” is a true family film, celebrating the difficulties of forming a necessary unit with others to withstand life’s struggles. These characters truly have no one but each other and yet, their society claims because of the adults’ identities, their family is somehow a threat. They face it with tears, laughter, lovable and hurtful moments. Future generations might disbelieve how for so long, in many corners of the world, including ours, loving someone both romantically and as family meant living in the underground. Family really means whoever is there with you living through time’s joys and cruelties. For this emerging director, it’s the same kind of honest, daring attitude he continues to bring to filmmaking. “I’m not going to do a gig just to get a gig,” says Stolevski. “A film is a year of blood, sweat and tears of your life and it has to be worth it.” 

Housekeeping for Beginners” releases April 6 in select theaters.