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Movie Review: Love wins in the triumphant 'Housekeeping for Beginners'

Posted 4/3/24

“Housekeeping for Beginners” begins with a shot of a painting on a wall hanging just a little askew. It’s an apt metaphor for what’s in store, says Associated Press critic Mark Kennedy. …

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Movie Review: Love wins in the triumphant 'Housekeeping for Beginners'

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“Housekeeping for Beginners” begins with a shot of a painting on a wall hanging just a little askew. It's an apt metaphor for what's in store.

Writer and director Goran Stolevski gives us an atypical family portrait that's brilliantly political without being preachy, loving without being maudlin and epic by being specifically tiny.

This is the complex story set mostly in a villa outside Skopje, the capital city of North Macedonia, that has become a refuge for those not in the mainstream — queer, Roma or a mix of both, ethnic minorities colliding with sexual ones in a repressive, traditional society.

Shot entirely with handheld cameras and using subtitles, “Housekeeping for Beginners” may seem daunting at first as viewers are thrust into a chaotic, multigenerational household with no navigation.

But Stolevski's use of cinema verite — shaky close-ups, capturing routine things like the brushing of teeth — and globalization mean we see things we know even if it is North Macedonia — boring bus commutes, Grindr, the joy of picking up kids from kindergarten, Adidas footwear and singing loudly along to very bad pop songs in the living room. They might be Serbian pop songs, but no matter.

Eventually, Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca — absolutely brilliant — emerges as the fulcrum. She is Dita, a no-nonsense Albanian healthcare worker and den mother with a deep well of love and patience. Along for the ride is her Roma lover and her two children, her longtime Albanian gay friend Toni and his younger lover Ali, and various young social exiles who have found the home a good place to figure out who they are.

In the first half, Dita's partner, Suada, faces a health scare and the household must try to adjust if she doesn't make it. As a single mother, Suada pleads with Dita to legally adopt her two girls — one a sullen teen and the other an exuberant 5-year-old. Without legal protection, who knows what will happen to them in a world where their ethnicity is denigrated?

The movie’s second half shows this ragtag family trying to pass as what passes for normal — Dita and Toni going to parties pretending to be a couple, the two girls pretending both of the adults are their parents. “Nothing has to change,” Dita tells them, but the strain of not being who they are is overwhelming.

Cinematographer Naum Doksevski's camera spins and swoops as the family bursts out of his frame, constantly in motion and animated. Scenes never really end, just become a hectic series of vivid postcards adding up to an emotional connection as various hotheaded decisions threaten to rip this family apart.

In addition to Marinca, Samson Selim is superb as the sweet young lover to Ali, instantly a protector and big brother to the youngest daughter, trying to ensure her childhood is loving and happy, something his eyes say he did not enjoy himself. Vladimir Tintor, who plays Toni, is a stoic slow-burner but powerfully reveals the fear of being aged out of love.

A neat conclusion is not in store for this family, but a satisfying one is. Like magnets pulled together, the various pieces might fly apart but there's a grudging admiration and appreciation that keeps them together. It's love and that's the same in the Balkans or Brazil.

It may come as somewhat of a shock to discover that the movie, so rooted in North Macedonia, could have been set elsewhere. The Macedonia-born, Australia-based Stolevski initially considered Australia. And that's the point: It's what happens in the house that matters, not where the house is.

“Housekeeping for Beginners,” a Focus Features release, is rated R for “sexual content, language throughout and some teen drinking.” Running time: 107 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Online: https://www.focusfeatures.com/housekeeping-for-beginners

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits