Refugee Crisis Exposes a Family’s Moral Flaws in Greek Debut ‘Behind the Haystacks’
Christopher Vourlias | variety.com
First-time filmmaker Asimina Proedrou makes her auspicious debut with “Behind the Haystacks,” a family drama set against the Greek refugee crisis that won six awards after premiering at the recently wrapped Thessaloniki Film Festival.
The film tells the story of a middle-aged fisherman who, faced with mounting debt, begins to smuggle refugees across a lake on Greece’s northern border. After tragedy strikes, exposing the hypocrisy at the root of his small town, he and his family must face the consequences.
Starring screen veteran Stathis Stamoulakatos as the desperate husband and father, alongside Lena Ouzounidou as his devout, church-going wife and Evgenia Lavda as their rebellious daughter, “Behind the Haystacks” examines how the repercussions of a single, tragic event ripple outward across a community, forcing many to consider the costs of their actions for the first time.
“The film is an exploration about where our modern societies are being led to and why, and about the way human relationships collapse within these societies,” said Proedrou, calling it a portrait of “how everyday people are trapped in corrupt systems and societies.”
“Behind the Haystacks” premiered in Thessaloniki’s Meet the Neighbors competition, which showcases first- and second-time directors from the wider region of Southeastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, where it earned a special mention from the jury.
It also won the FIPRESCI Award for a Greek film from the Intl. Federation of Film Critics, as well the Greek critics’ association award, the prize from Greek public broadcaster ERT and the award from the Greek Film Center. Location manager Giorgos Babanaras was also honored for his work on the film, which was shot against the rugged backdrop of Greece’s border with North Macedonia.
Written and directed by Proedrou, “Behind the Haystacks” is produced by Ioanna Bolomyti, Markus Halberschmidt, Vladimir Anastasov and Angela Nestorovska, and co-produced by Anna Jancsó. The production companies are Argonauts, Fiction Park and Sektor Film, in co-production with Greek public broadcaster ERT and Atalante Productions. Panos Papahadzis and Maria Tsigka executive produced. Cinematography was handled by veteran DoP Simos Sarketzis (“Xenia,” “The City and the City”).
Speaking to Variety in Thessaloniki, Proedrou described the journey of her long-gestating directorial debut, which began on a trip to northern Greece in 2015, at the height of a crisis that saw some 1.3 million refugees — mostly Syrians fleeing war — attempt to gain safe passage into Europe. Many arrived in Greece before attempting to travel further north.
Already developing a social drama set in the region, the director and her team were location scouting when they encountered a family of refugees staying in a local hotel. The experience inspired Proedrou to examine how Greece’s growing humanitarian crisis was adding to the strains of a rural community already facing pressure from larger economic and social forces.
Told in three parts, “Behind the Haystacks” examines how those forces combined with the refugee crisis to create a combustible mix — most notably in the form of the fisherman, Stergios, who finds himself getting entangled in a disastrous human-smuggling ring to dig his family out of a financial hole. “One decision follows the other, and at some point, he’s trapped,” explained Proedrou.
Few of her characters are spared the director’s critical gaze, from local religious and business leaders to Stergios’ wife, Maria, whose outwardly charitable designs toward the area’s refugees mask her own restless social climbing — and the chilling hypocrisy that comes to the surface at a pivotal moment in the film.
Proedrou is not entirely as pessimistic as “Behind the Haystacks” might lead the audience to believe. “It’s not exactly my perspective on the society, but it speaks about my fears,” she said. “I made this film because I wanted to raise questions about where our modern society leads.”
While each of her protagonists faces a stark moral reckoning, it is the couple’s daughter, Anastasia, who offers a glimpse of salvation. A nursing student by day who harbors dreams of becoming a cabaret singer by night, she spends the bulk of the film trying to define herself against the constrictive society around her — or to find a way out.
“I don’t want to give any answers,” Proedrou said, about her film’s ambiguous ending. “But I wanted to give some light of hope.”