'The Mother of All Lies' Review: An Inspired Moroccan Documentary Tackling Family Secrets and the History of a Nation

Karlovy Vary: “The mother of all lies”, a hand-made tale of memory

The opening sequence of The mother of all lies shows director Asmae El Moudir fitting her grandmother with a hearing aid. The cantankerous old woman obviously doesn’t want to help and pretends the device doesn’t work until Asmae asks, “Why don’t you like photographs?” The question elicits an immediate reaction, as the woman turns abruptly, glaring at the camera with contempt. “See, you can hear,” Asmae retorts.

The brief moment is a microcosm of the entire film, El Moudir’s exploration of the lies, deceit and misremembering of his family, and by extension his country, surrounding the 1981 Casablanca bread riots. the rising cost of bread turned into a bloodbath with, according to some estimates, more than 600 people killed. One was Fatima, a neighbor killed on the same streets where El Moudir, born after the riots, remembers playing in the 1990s. But that story is hardly discussed, publicly or privately. In El Moudir’s family, memories seem to be deliberately erased. In her dubbed entry in the film, El Moudir mentions that there is only one photo of her as a child, and she has never been convinced that it is really her.

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“Photos were always forbidden in the family home, my grandmother said it was for religious reasons,” says El Mourdir The Hollywood Reporter. “But I discovered in the film that it wasn’t the truth, that there was a deeper, more personal reason to do with the trauma and something that happened with my grandmother.”

With no physical evidence to work from – no family photos, no footage of the riots – El Moudir reconstructs his Moroccan neighborhood and his family’s old apartment, in a scale model, from memory, with handmade figurines, sculpted by his father and dressed by the mother, her family and friends. With this dollhouse in place as a kind of therapeutic tool, he begins engaging eyewitnesses, convincing their long-dormant stories.

The approach is not without risk. Under its new king, conditions in Morocco have greatly improved since the “years of lead,” as the period of repression from the early 1960s to the late 1980s was known. But the country still has a shaky relationship with human rights and what happened during the Bread Riots is almost never publicly discussed.

“I was trying to understand how we make up stories when we don’t have any concrete or visual evidence of what happened. How do we reconstruct the past? she says. “I tried to create this space to bring together the real elements, my family and my neighbors, and these built elements. That’s why I insist in the film that I’m a director, not a journalist. As a journalist, I would go into the details of what happened, with the names of the people involved. But as a director, I don’t need to name names and maybe put people in danger. I can just create a space for my neighbors, my parents and me to talk about what happened to us and what happened in our country. Even though the bodies have been hidden and the images are missing, we can make memories. This movie may be the only memory we can have.

The mother of all lies premiered at Cannes, where El Moudir won Best Director, as well as Best Documentary, in the Un Certain Regard section. The film is being screened this week in the Horizons section of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.