Housekeeping for Beginners is set in a chaotic family home in Macedonia. However, this is no ordinary household. Dita lives with her girlfriend and her two daughters, tiny troublemaker Mia and rebellious teen Vanesa. The house is a sort of drop-in centre for the queer and homeless, with Toni, who tends to pick up younger guys living in one of the spare rooms.
The film opens with a raucous dance sequence, with a houseful of people dancing and smoking pot. Dita has just returned from the hospital with her partner, who is dying of cancer. She takes her frustrations out on Ali, a young guy who has invited him to stay. Despite all of this, it is evident that she has a heart of gold and loves unconditionally all those who need her help.
Reluctantly, Dita promises to adopt the two girls after her partner’s death, but this means she must be married to conform to Macedonia’s strict adoption laws. Against his better judgment, Toni then “becomes the father” (due to forged birth certificates), and Toni and Dita marry. This is a marriage of convenience in order to be able to adopt the girls.
The premise is loaded with situational comedy and pathos; Vanesa rebels against the arrangement. She insists on living with her Gypsy grandmother, whom she has not seen for many years. After a trip to the rough countryside where the grandmother lives, it is clear that this is not a good idea. She reluctantly returns to the home – and with it comes a softening of her anger with the world.
Like Dita’s spluttering car, the movie lurches from situation to situation, with the viewer in close proximity for the whole journey. Director Goran Strolevski has used the close-up for the majority of this film. This makes us feel as much a part of the busy lifestyle of these characters. Humour comes from the situations that the family find themselves in. A dinner party invitation from a co-worker to the newlyweds ends with a drunk Vanesa teaching the young children a crude anatomy lesson.
Housekeeping for Beginners offers a glimpse into a non-conformist group of people living within a conformist society. The subject matter is handled with tenderness, care and a great sense of humour. A celebration of life that demonstrates that not all families are created equal.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Housekeeping for Beginners screened The Piccadilly as part of the Adelaide Film Festival
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