The Mother Of All Lies


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Mother Of All Lies
"Everything about El Moudir’s film is unusual, from the structure to the mood."

Asmae El Moudir continues to be drawn to autobiographical stories with her second feature after 2020’s made-for-TV Postcard, which saw her return to her mother’s rural village. This much less gentle follow up starts as a quasi-family therapy session that opens out an exploration of a specific moment in Moroccan history.

This time it’s pictures rather than a postcard that acts as a trigger. One is of some children in a garden, El Moudir’s mum claims one of the girls is her, although the director questions this. The second is a snap taken during Ramadan, when 12-year-old El Moudir snuck out of her family’s house in Casablanca to get the photo, the first of herself that she had ever had taken. She is pictured in front of a Hawaiian backdrop - an early indication that things might not always be as they appear. A third photo is of a young girl, Fatima, who was shot and killed during the Casablanca bread riots of 1981.

All of these, in turn, lead to an altogether more elaborate piece of art - a miniature version of the family’s entire neighbourhood made by the director and her father that El Moudir uses as a jumping off point to discuss secrets and lies from her childhood.

Everything about El Moudir’s film is unusual, from the structure to the mood. The miniature of Casablanca, with its flickering lights and enhanced by Nass El Ghiwane’s often unsettling score, is like an art installation in its own right, populated by dolls that represent members of the family and key neighbours. The atmosphere, meanwhile, is one of oppression, driven largely by the fact that one of the film’s major players, El Moudir’s grandmother, is a decidedly uncooperative witness.

Right from the start it’s clear her gran rules the home the family live in with a rod of iron and she also takes extreme issue with her granddaughter’s assertion that she is “a director”, not to mention the small figurine that has been made to represent her, an animosity that leads not to just to explosive arguments but shattered glass as El Moudir notes she has deliberately stoked at one point.

The tiny gives way to the large, as questions of photographs broaden out into a bigger picture about the bread riots, the oppression of the citizenry and the lasting trauma they brought. There are places where the link to the smaller family ins and outs feels rather tenuous and El Moudir’s arguments could use more shape, especially in terms of filling in more historical detail about the riots, which are estimated to have cost the lives of hundreds even though the official death toll stands at 66. Nevertheless El Moudir proves herself to be creative in terms of finding a key to her contributors’ memories and the testimony she captures remains raw and visceral, while even her grandmother’s anger is shown to stem at least partially from a place of trauma.

Reviewed on: 09 Jan 2024
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The filmmaker doesn’t have any pictures of herself as a child. This is the starting point of a documentary investigation that unfolds the secrets of a Casablanca family.

Director: Asmae El Moudir

Year: 2023

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Morocco, France, Qatar

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