In a David Sedaris essay from Calypso, he mentions cussing across the globe, stating: “The Romanians really do lead the world when it comes to cursing.” Well, David, I wouldn’t be so sure. Australian-Macedonian director Goran Stolevski, whose thriller You Won’t Be Alone deservedly garnered much acclaim, has returned to his homeland of North Macedonia to make Housekeeping for Beginners, a swear-filled, raucous and deeply moving tale. In it, the director deals with the notions of family, institutional racism, LGBTQ rights and the meaning of love as viewed from the perspective of a dysfunctional ad-hoc household made up of potty-mouthed outcasts and misfits.

The story revolves around the matriarch Dita (the excellent Anamaria Marinca) who lives with her girlfriend Suada (Alina Serban), a Roma woman, and Suada’s daughters – the perennially angry teen Vanesa (Mia Mustafa) and the delightful six-year-old Mia (Dzada Selim). Also living in the house is the brooding and humourless Toni (Vladimir Tintor), whose latest conquest, the kind and gentle Ali (Samson Selim), soon becomes part of the furniture. Added to the mix are a couple of rowdy lesbians, one of whom points out that Dita’s home is beginning to look like the United Nations. Everyone is accepted and everyone feels safe. Mattresses are pulled out, couches become beds, and food is always on the table in this safe space.

Yet Dita can’t protect everyone. When Suada is given a devastating cancer prognosis, she turns to Dita for help, and together they concoct a crazy plan. It’s not just the cancer that poses a threat to breaking up the precariously placed family. North Macedonia is not exactly a gay-friendly society as is made clear by all who live under Dita’s roof. Within the home’s confines, they are safe, but beyond it – and even when interlopers cross the threshold –dangers lurk.


The disparity between Romas and non-Romas is made horribly apparent in how Suada is treated by her oncologist. Serban plays Suada as a seething cauldron of anger. She might be dying, but she is raging against the unfairness of her impending death and her lowly status. Suada’s idea is for Dita and Toni to marry and for Toni to adopt Vanesa and Mia, thus saving them from being subjected to the inhumane treatment she has endured.

Stolevski keeps a close watch on all the characters as they go about putting Suada’s plan into action (or trying to scupper it, in the case of Vanesa). There are plenty of close-ups, the hand-held camera zooming in on each character as they sing or dance or shout or feign marital bliss. In fact, song plays a massive part in this film, with characters belting out top ten hits and performing for whomever happens to be assembled in the house. Alen and Nenad Sinkauz wrote the score, which is a perfect musical accompaniment to the events and emotions on screen.

When Vanesa runs away to her Roma grandmother, it is the newcomer Ali – also a Roma – who saves the day. It is here that Stolevski shows the huge divide between the two parts of Skopje and how people like Toni and Dita are unwelcome intruders in the shanty town full of semi-derelict houses and dirt roads where the Roma people live.

Stolevski manages to walk the fine line between the joy and love of Dita’s home and the sadness and potential dangers that lurk both within and beyond it. He has opened up a world to viewers rarely seen on the big screen, and, like Hirokazu Kore-eda, he shows that there are many ways to be a family as long as there is a will and a huge dose of love.