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VENICE 2023 Orizzonti

Goran Stolevski, Alina Serban • Director of and actress in Housekeeping for Beginners

“In order to have a meaningful representation, we needed to allow our characters to act like arseholes”


- VENICE 2023: The Macedonian-Australian director reunites with one of his actresses to break down a movie in which so many dramatic things happen, yet which leaves you with a sense of joy

Goran Stolevski, Alina Serban • Director of and actress in Housekeeping for Beginners

Dita’s house is always full of people: full of friends, of two girls she is raising with her partner Suada (Alina Serban), of her friend Toni’s random lovers. But when Suada gets sick in the Venice Orizzonti highlight Housekeeping for Beginners [+see also:
film review
interview: Goran Stolevski, Alina Serban
film profile
, Dita needs to promise she will keep taking care of her kids – even if it means getting married. To a man. We joined actress Serban and director Goran Stolevski for a chat about the movie.

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Cineuropa: There are so many dramatic things happening here, sickness and grief, and yet you are left with a sense of joy.
Goran Stolevski: Life deals you the cards, but whatever you get, you should live it to the fullest. Even when you are poor or if you are part of some minority, every day is not a miserable social-realist drama. Every day contains a full spectrum of feelings and colour. I don’t want to shy away from the reality of what it’s like when you are constricted by society, but you find joy. You are not just surviving. I was looking for these moments because I want to make films people can hopefully connect with and that even my straight friends can enjoy. You always want a complete picture of someone’s life.

This film is not about politics or even about queer experience. It’s about family. And, as in every family, people behave badly. Did you want that?
I even encouraged it [laughs]!

Alina Serban: I love my mother, but if we stayed in the same space for a whole day, we would argue. It was nice to see Suada behaving like a brat. It’s all part of our normal experience, but once you add queer and Roma people to the mix, it makes it special because we don’t get to see that. We don’t get to see that their life is just like ours. Finally, my ethnicity wasn’t portrayed as something “exotic”; it wasn’t all about poverty porn. The teenage character is rebelling because she is going through loss. She just happens to be Roma as well.

You show people who are looked down on, but they refuse to be in that position.
I didn’t want us to be victims. When I finally sat down to write this story, it happened very quickly. It came from a place that was instinctive and subconscious. I get a bit frustrated sometimes because Tarkovsky got to be Tarkovsky. I get to be “gay filmmaker Goran Stolevski”. I am not universal; I am niche. Which makes me go: “My feelings are not niche!” I made a film about boys falling in love and had middle-aged women coming up to me, saying: “How did you know my story?!” I want to connect with them, too; I want them to have fun. This film is not “gay homework”.

Alina, your romantic relationship in the film feels real. Did you want to go beyond the trope of queer, star-crossed lovers?
Thanks to Goran, there was something truthful about it from the start. We can understand that if you go through an illness, you might not want your partner to Google it all the time. But that’s what we do! It was about two normal people, and that’s what we need to see: not angels, but also not devils.

GS: It’s true, and not just for queer characters, because I am also sick of seeing migrants – and I am thinking of the Macedonian context here – always being shown as so “noble”. In order to have a meaningful representation, we need to allow our characters to act like arseholes. Dita is Albanian and marginalised in her own right, and an early viewer of the film asked: “Why is she being such a bitch?” Well, why was Walter White a bitch in Breaking Bad? Sometimes even queer artists make something so idealised that I have to stop watching. It can only do damage.

AS: Or take Toni [played by Vladimir Tintor], who is dealing with this huge thing, with becoming a dad. It’s not about his “gayness”; it’s about fear, abandonment, love and loss, and this idea of them needing to marry in order to save these children.

These emotions clash in the group scenes, and there are quite a few of them. Was it hard to choreograph it all?
And to edit! My husband got used to seeing me lying on a couch, face down, yelling: “I am shit! I messed it up!” On set, it was wonderful, but trying to match these energies later on was really hard. When I watched it for the first time, I was amazed it made sense.

AS: I have a question, too, about your musical choices. Music became another character here, but it wasn’t like that in the script.

GS: It just gives the characters a fuller, more rounded body. I was thinking about what they were going through and was trying to capture that feeling through songs. At one point, the film was editing itself; I was just following where it took me.

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