Words by Jimmy Dougan (follow him on Letterboxd here) / Press images courtesy of Focus Features
Perhaps it was because a few minutes in we were evacuated by a fire alarm, and then upon restarting found the film had to be further rewound because the sound had fallen out of synch… but I never found myself warming to Goran Stolevski’s Housekeeping for Beginners.
After an intriguing opening, it reveals itself to be a blandly tedious film, so focused on depicting the full breadth of LGBTQ+ experiences that it forgets to do anything remotely interesting with its cast or subject matter. All we have is a sequence of increasingly tiresome sublots which remain largely abandoned by the time the credits roll with a whimper.
These subplots concern a ragtag bunch of weirdos and punks who are outcasts owing to their sexualities, a thorny issue in Macedonia, and all living under the same roof.
Dita (Anamaria Marinca) is de facto matriarch of this safehouse and lives with her Roma girlfriend Suada (Alina Serban), her teenage daughter Vanesa (Mia Mustafa), and wrecking-ball six-year-old Mia (Dzada Selim). Swirling around them are other characters, all too uninteresting and thinly sketched to make any kind of impression.
Something exacerbating this is Suada’s swift death from terminal cancer – leaving Dita to raise the children. This is a shame for the audience as well, as Suada is by far the most compelling character Stolevski deigns to give us and her fiery ferocity scorch indelible marks on the rest of the film – one that never manages to recapture her livewire presence.
The tourism board of North Macedonia must have their head in their hands; Stolevski’s rendering of the country’s capital, Skopje, isn’t far above Borat in terms of nuanced cultural sensitivity. Stolevski was born in North Macedonia but emigrated with his family to Australia when he was a child, and clearly carries a deep anger with his native home to depict it as the backwards hovel it appears as in his film.
But at least it sounds nice. I’ve never seen a film from Macedonia before, and the language has a sharp and relentless cadence which at least lends the many, countless, scenes set around dinner tables a nice sense of pacing. It’s something which works well with Naum Doksevski’s handheld cinematography, which has a tendency to place intense close-ups of tired faces against blurred domestic backdrops; these people exist in a state of dissonance with the culture surrounding them. Occasionally, miraculously, the two align and the effect is subtly powerful. And sprinkled in with great frequency, like needles, are the vile slurs which transcend language.
When the film finally settles on one of these ragtag outsiders, it gains a certain degree of narrative drive; Dita first asks gay Toni (Vladimir Tintor) to enlist as Vanesa and Mia’s father, and then to marry her so that she can share custody. The film, briefly, manages to be very funny and the deadpan delivery draws genuine laughs. It’s an arrangement which upends the established norm in the house, and Stolevski’s ensemble rise to the challenge of depicting the shifting dynamics at play. Stolevski, acting as editor here, lets scenes run longer than most and it gives proceedings a deft, improvisational quality.
But these elements are too slight to make any real difference; Stolevski’s film runs on and on trying to tie up all these dangling subplots and fails to end any on a note of satisfaction.
The performances from the gung-ho cast are uniformly committed even if their characters fail to make any real impact, but the film is so bloated and unfocused that my fingers were crossed for another fire alarm. A real shame.
For more on Housekeeping for Beginners visit www.focusfeatures.com/housekeeping-for-beginners
LFF screenings begin at MAC on 4 October and run until 15 October, with tickets for all films and events on the programme now on sale. For full listings and links to online ticket sales visit: www.macbirmingham.co.uk/london-film-festival-2023
To read more about the BFI London Film Festival go to: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff
For more from MAC, including all events listings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk
To follow Jimmy Dougan on Letterboxed visit www.letterboxd.com/jimmydougan