‘Housekeeping for Beginners’ Forms an Unlikely Queer Family

In Goran Stolevski’s Housekeeping for Beginners, chosen family is a misnomer. The found family at its center does not choose each other but are rather brought together by circumstance. The feelings of obligation and duty and even reluctance are those more frequently found in people linked by biology.

When the film begins Dita (Anamaria Marinca), a Balkan social worker, has already created an unconventional home in Skopje, Macedonia with her girlfriend Suada (Alina Serban), a Roma mother of two. In addition to Suada’s children, rebellious teen Vanessa (Mia Mustafi) and precocious kid Mia (Džada Selim), Dita has opened her home as a sort of safe haven for wayward queers. Toni (Vladimir Tintor), a gay man approaching middle age, is a resident, as is a trio of goth lesbians. (Two of them are dating, which two changes every week, another character quips.) They’re soon joined by Ali (Samson Selim), a 19 year old who Toni fucked on Grindr and then invited to stay for the indefinite future — without even checking with Dita and Suada.

Far from a utopic queer commune, this group of people is often at odds, resentments ever-growing. In this household, there is endless shouting — with anger, with joy, or both. The delicate ecosystem is made even more challenging when Suada is diagnosed with cancer and Dita finds herself filling a position of motherhood.

Housekeeping for Beginners dabbles in some common tropes: unlikely chosen families, a non-parent being forced to adjust to parenthood, and even a “white savior” helping “underprivileged” children of color. But the film is successful because of the ways it complicates these tropes. Dita isn’t a reluctant white woman who rises to the occasion and inspires. She’s a reluctant white woman who attempts to rise to the occasion and is humbled into learning her limits. She’s a woman in love with another woman who wants to do right by the children who are an extension of her love.

But even more than the complexities of Dita’s character and her dynamics with the kids, it’s Ali who becomes the film’s heart. Due to his youth and also being Roma, Ali is able to connect with Suada’s kids in a way Dita cannot. Samson Selim as Ali is the standout performance. Even as he’s taking on relationships and responsibilities beyond his years, his youthful emotions and energy vibrate beneath.

Selim is just one great performance in a film full of them. Every part — child to adult, minor role to lead — is perfectly cast, creating an environment and family that feel authentic in their idiosyncrasies.

Despite the painful turns of the film, it finds lightness in the connections of its characters. Even the most antagonistic in this family unit have moments of joy together, whether it’s having an at-home karaoke session, sharing too much alcohol, or bonding over the absurdity of their situation.

In a country and a world where queer relationships shared the rights of straight ones, Roma people and all people of color didn’t face persecution, and governments guaranteed basic needs like housing and healthcare, this found family wouldn’t be forced together. And yet, maybe I’m wrong to say they don’t choose each other. Because even in the face of dire circumstances plenty of people turn toward self-protection. Many of the characters here could have balked at their newfound responsibility — and, at first, almost all of them do. But then they choose to make sacrifices, to care for one another.

The chosen family that’s difficult might just be the most inspiring. We owe life to each other even when it’s hard.

Housekeeping for Beginners is now playing in theatres. 

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 538 articles for us.

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