The Mother of All Lies (2023) Directing Prize Winner UCR 2023

May 24th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Asmae El Moudir; Drama-Documentary with Asmae El Moudir; Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt 2023, 96 min.

La Femis graduate and director Asmae El Moudir, follows her first film The Postcard with this feature debut set against the troubled past of her homeland, Morocco.

Aesthetically the film follows a daring concept: On the one hand El Moudir questions her forebears’ history, using puppets and a handmade replica of the Casablanca neighbourhood where she grew up, at the same bringing herself into the feature, openly questioning her parents’ version of events.

The story centres on a single photo. El Moudir wants to know why she only has one photograph from her childhood, and why the girl in the picture isn’t even her. Her dictatorial grandmother burnt the rest of the memorabilia. The snap is shot in a Kindergarten setting and it soon turns out the girl in the photo is her sister Fatima, one of the victims of the massacre ordered by King Hassan II in Casablanca in June 1981, when the poor rose up against the cost of living crisis: bread and sugar prices increased by a staggering 77%.

On that fateful day in June 1981, the grandmother had closed the house but she was the only person who could have seen the assailant, who killed her granddaughter. Confronted by the surviving sister, the grandmother used bullying tactics to keep her, and the rest of the household, quiet. Not by accident, the photo of Hassan II is the only other image which survived to tell the tale.

The death toll was officially put at sixty six people but observers believed over six hundred were killed by police and military. After many years of the Sahara War, the Kingdom had run out of money and the price rises were supposed to cover for the seemingly endless military adventure. El Moudir questions her mother, father and grandmother’s account about their home and their country. Slowly, she unravels the layers of deception that have shaped her life.

As it turns out, Fatima was not the only victim in the house. The filmmaker’s father was a promising goalkeeper with the local team. One morning, the army and police used the pitch to bury the victims of the massacre, ending the father’s dream career. He joined his brothers who were jailed for decades, in mourning a lost past. One of the brothers recalls his time in prison: many where forced into claustrophobic cells where they were suffocated.

El Moudir painstakingly puts together the repressed history, with the grandmother defiant to the last. The use of puppets and miniatures actually makes the grand deception even more real, and quite alarming. There are echoes of the Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussaud’s wax work museum. DoP Hatem Nachi cleverly merges the two artistic levels seamlessly. The film is particularly convincing in showing how the tyrannical grandmother uses her status as the matriarch to repress any form of resistance from her docile and traumatised family. The Mother of all Lies is innovative and startling. An impressive start to a promising filmmaking career. AS


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