For the Country and the Patriarchy

in 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Alin Tasciyan

“Pro patria et patriarchia” (For the country and the patriarchy): Asimina Proedrou’sBehind the Haystacks

 Behind the Haystacks (Piso apo tis thimonies) is the debut feature of Asimina Proedrou, which won several accolades at the 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, including the FIPRESCI Award for a Greek premier. What ignited the common appreciation for the film in these collateral jury members who had different formations and motivations to give an award, is the film’s accomplishment without neglecting any element, and its powerful cinematic feel. Behind the Haystacks above all impresses the audience with its capability to create atmosphere through strong visuals and suspense through its structure. It slowly provokes thoughts with its rich subtext, eventually forming an evocative cinematic narrative about the moral dilemma of Christian Europe in the face of the refugee crisis, with a Rashomon-like narrative. The characters are functional and yet fully formed, and the tensions between them are well described. The actors give admirable performances, experienced and debutant alike.

On the shores of a peaceful lake where many families enjoy a feast, three children notice dead bodies among the reeds while playing. As the children desperately try to capture the attention of the adults, they deliberately ignore them, as if trying to avoid this news which is obviously not shocking for them… In chronological order, this event takes place much later in the film. The setting is chosen to dominate the film both physically and symbolically, in and out of the frame. This rural community wouldn’t even dare to look at the water, as it would reflect their own guilty visions. The film’s title refers to the secrets they keep.

Doiran is a lake on the border between North Macedonia and Greece, separating the North and South of the historical region of Macedonia. It is a geographical border that has to be crossed clandestinely in order to travel from the East to the West. This border stands between the European dream of the refugees and the geography they try to escape from. The illusion quickly fades once they are forsaken… They can hardly survive without shelter and food. Those who cannot manage to cross the water are washed ashore… The water is not the source of life, but of death for these unfortunates.

Most of the inhabitants of this Orthodox region are fishermen, including one of the main characters, Stergios (Stathis Stamoulakatos); their livelihood depends on the Doiran. But they don’t abstain from trafficking refugees across the lake, reversing the nourishing and purifying effect of the water. This action also reverses the rite of baptism. When the refugees are immersed in the water, they are not purified or regenerated: they are drowned. They don’t become Christians, but they die. The Christians who exploit the desperate refugees are accursed, they are sinners according to Bible, and criminals according to secular laws. Stergios, who is responsible for the accident, carries the muddied water into his house after the accident. He sullies both the water and the home to his family.

The hefty Stergios first appears to be an ordinary, conservative, controlling, but loving family man, the kind of person who does everything for the sake of his family, as his name suggests. As the story unfolds, the petty bourgeois hypocrisy of Stergios is displayed clearly. His faithful wife Maria (Lena Ouzounidou) is stuck between her sanctimonious husband and the local gangster brother (Paschalis Tsarouhas). Her only pride and joy are to hold the keys to the church in order to clean and tidy it, and lead the small group of women in their parish to raise funds for the restoration of the chapel. Their daughter Anastasia (Evgenia Lavda) works as a nurse intern; she tries to enjoy life a little, although her overprotective father wouldn’t even let her celebrate her birthday at a local tavern — the only place in the film where there is a warm light and laughter — with her girlfriends, unless ‘a trustworthy male friend keeps an eye on them’. Anastasia, whose name means resurrection, literally finds her voice during this celebration: she can sing, at least good enough for a small Macedonian town club, and in addition she is young and pretty… Her stage dress covered with red sequins is the shiny flag of her rebellion, although it is an embarrassment to her parents.

Behind the Haystacks dedicates an episode to each member of this nuclear family. These episodes show the course of the events from a character’s points of view. New plot details emerge with each episode like pieces of a puzzle, thus keeping the suspense until the very end of the film. A genuine visceral experience stimulates an uncanny feeling in the audience: this provincial community is infected with corruption and hypocrisy. Faith has turned into bigotry. The priest has no compassion for the refugees, closes the doors of the church to those in need, and to the good Samaritans. He even dismisses Maria once he discovers that she has helped the refugees. The union, a working-class institution supposed to defend its members’ rights, has turned into a mob; it exploits them and obliges them to commit crimes. The director has a critical approach both to these institutions and to the individuals who lack conscience, who tolerate all the injustice for the sake of the patria and patriarchy, consciously or unconsciously. Only a young idealist stands out of this corrupt society like a Christ figure, and inevitably he pays for their sins.


Behind the Haystacks is not merely a critique of today’s societies who remain indifferent to the refugee crisis, but also a microcosm of the human condition in a historical and Biblical context. Behind the crimes and sins and other doings of the men, the women try to emancipate themselves, to show solidarity and compassion, avoiding victimization and forbearing the loss of their loved ones; occasionally, as one hopeful scene in this film suggests, they bring the next generation, that is the future, into the world: a sunless, lightless, colourless, foggy and cold world as if it has always been winter.

Alin Tasciyan
Edited by Birgit Beumers