THE STORY – A Moroccan woman’s search for truth tangles with a web of lies in her family history. As a daughter and filmmaker, she fuses personal and national history as she reflects on the 1981 Bread Riots, drawing out connections to modern Morocco.
THE CAST – Zahra Jeddaoui, Mohamed El Moudir, Abdallah EZ Zouid, Said Masrour, Ouardia Zorkani & Asmae El Moudir
THE TEAM – Asmae El Moudir (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 96 Minutes
Memory can be a powerful tool for thematic exploration. It is an element that is never concrete, always existing in a fluid state that can drift in and out of reliability. However, veracity is not the most valuable commodity of this property. Its mailable nature is precisely what gives it power. It is a useful examination to glance at perspective that underlines how events can deeply affect an emotional core. How one holds such information as decades pass informs so much and crystalizes the personalities at play. For the subjects at the center of “The Mother of All Lies,” it is necessary to gather around those impacted by a great tragedy and hear them recount those experiences. What is showcased is a clash of attitudes and viewpoints, but all in the service of a vital reminder of what can be lost when political power crushes the few who stand against it.
The centerpiece of this story revolves around a filmmaker recreating the environment her family was living in decades prior. The purpose of this experiment is to recount the family members’ mindsets from when their Moroccan village was riddled with strife and protests against an invasive government. Asmae ElMoudir gathers her parents, grandmother, and neighbors from that era to express their memories of those impactful times. She is met with varying levels of openness, with the most scornful being her grandmother — a woman who is loyal to the state and is also mean-spirited and spiteful. There is obvious tension between her and the younger people who are here. The remembrances concern the oppressive regime that intimidated its citizens, most notably during a violent riot that killed many and cast a dark cloud on their neighborhood. Years later, the dark secrets lay dormant, waiting to be exhumed by an uncomfortable yet necessary confrontation.
What’s most fascinating about the process that ElMoudir assembles here is her method of plunging back into the past. To create the most powerful triggers, she employs her father to help create a replica of their small village. She gathers her family together in a studio to witness the tiny buildings populated by dolls in this environment. The figures are crudely manipulated into motion, but it helps to establish a particular sense of whimsy that is effectively juxtaposed against the dark events. It’s a captivating piece of storytelling that makes for so much more impressionable sequences than if these events were just verbally recalled. This approach, however, can occasionally suffer from stalled momentum, especially as the narrative focus switches from the family dynamics to the broader political consequences of the massacre. These are two tracks meant to be intertwined, but the film can struggle to keep both at the same levels of engagement.
Still, one is wholly intrigued by the participants who have come together to bear witness at this moment. No doubt, the most compelling person in this room is ElMoudir’s grandmother. She is portrayed as fanatically devoted to the power structure and rules her household with an iron fist. She carries a bitter resentment towards dissenters, seemingly unshaken through many decades. At the same time, there is a vulnerable core underneath that draws one further in as well. There is a sense that this is a woman who has survived the best she can and that she will antagonize anyone who stands against her. Yet, there’s a complicated psyche that constructs the bonds within her family, and it becomes an apt representation of the hostilities within the country. She is just as arresting a figure as the neighbor who remembers the traumatic events of his imprisonment and the parents who mourn for their child’s loss of innocence. Even non-fiction stories must rely on interesting characters; that analysis can be found here.
The most engrossing aspect of “The Mother of All Lies” is its search for the truth. However, it is not a simple truth worthy of investigation; instead, it is a discovery of what matters to a community buried deep within as they survive a horrific event and the confrontation between those who bore witness to such atrocity and were fundamentally changed. There is a rich commentary present there that is quite alluring to watch unfold. This assembly does falter due to the pacing occasionally lagging and the narrative perspectives needing more direct centralization. However, what is presented is still an enthralling work with a gripping thesis to unearth.