A genre-defying cinematic exploration of family and shared memory
Asmae El Moudir’s film Mother of All Lies is a family affair. With the participation of her grandmother, parents and a couple of former neighbors, the director tries to answer a few important questions in this category-defying film. The work is not a straightforward documentary and it’s not technically “animated,” even if miniatures are used for reenactments.
El Moudir employs multiple storytelling methods within this fascinating feature. Her dad Mohammed and she construct a set of their old neighborhood on a small scale, using miniature figures he formed to represent each of them, as well as other townspeople. The filmmaker begins by telling us about her childhood determination to have a photo taken of herself; one of the many ways her grandmother exerted control over the family was not allowing any photos, besides a portrait of the deceased grandfather.
It’s frankly surprising that her grumpy grandmother participates in this film at all, given her tendency to argue. She bickers with Asmae about whether she’s a director or not (Grandmother calls her a journalist). She won’t give a straight answer when asked about her dislike of photographs. She’s downright cruel to neighbors Abdallah and Said. Yet we see some of El Moudir’s affection for the cantankerous matriarch, even as the filmmaker asserts her independence.
Given that Mother of All Lies is primarily shot in an upstairs studio, the film can feel claustrophobic and disturbing. Strange camera angles force the viewer to look up through clear surfaces or face people straight-on through close-up shots. This exploration of myth and memory is intense, and even hard-to-watch in certain moments. One of those is neighbor Abdallah’s recall of his imprisonment during the Casablanca Bread Riots in 1981. He reenacts the horrific situation, layering miniatures on the floor of the small prison set as the bodies lay in his memory.
The filmmaker shows us only one photo remains to document the events of the 1981 massacre in the city. That won’t stop relatives and neighbors from remembering their friends and family who were killed. “It doesn’t matter if bodies disappear, if pictures went missing, our memories are alive,” El Moudir stresses to the audience. This unusual documentary, with an ending that made me smile despite the weighty subject, is one to be remembered.
The Mother of All Lies screened under the Spotlight section of the Sundance Film Festival.