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Mother Of All Lies: documentary hybrid trawling through layers of deception and willful oblivion

Wednesday 14 June 2023, by Sally Zarzour

Asmae El Moudir won the best director prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard for Kadib Abyad (The Mother Of All Lies)

A story about forgotten history and buried secrets unravels when a young girl realises she only has one picture from her childhood and that girl in the picture is not her. ‘Mother of All Lies’ transports us to a story in Morocco’s history with the director, Asmae’s own narration as she debuts her first feature film. From her own perspective, Asmae tries to relay the history of the 1981 Bread Riots in Morocco and reflects the national story of her country embedded through her own personal tale. The documentary hybrid is Asmae’s film entry to Cannes.
‘Mother of All Lies’ starts as Asmae decides to seek the truth behind her singular photo. She works with her father to build a miniature set to re-create all the details from the neighborhood she grew up in - from the people who walked the streets to the shops and their colourful decorations to preserve the memories and moments that her family went through.

Asmae’s choices in colour grading and lighting depict the essence of Morocco from warm undertones to bright colours as we move between stories and horror realities. ‘Mother of All Lies’ alternates between the miniatures Asmae and her father have built to scenes of the real characters suffering from their current realities and struggles because of the ongoing bread riots.

Slowly, she starts to peel the layers of her family’s story by posing questions about her home, country, and family dynamics and understands the truth of the deception and lies her family has covered up. Asmae’s narration leads the story as she understands from her words how difficult it is to build one’s identity while battling with chasing her own aspirations and maintaining the family’s traditions. The hint of whispering in her narration almost lets us feel as though we are part of the family’s secrets behind the doors, and we should not reveal what we are watching to anyone else. The treatment between the family members and the words they use along with their tone of voice portray the unhealed wounds that exist between them.
She slowly begins to question the stories her mother, father, and grandmother have told her throughout her life about her homeland and country, and understands all the layers of deception and willful oblivion that have shaped her life.

Asmae mirrors traditions and the mindset of her grandma, who seems to be the keyholder to the family’s secrets and old values, with one line in the film: “stop saying you’re a filmmaker. Filmmakers never leave the bars. You shame us..you’re a journalist.”

Furthermore, Asmae’s storytelling challenges traditions, passed down stories, and hidden secrets while tackling a relevant political issue that shaped generations to come.

The film ends with a closing shot on the grandma who still holds onto the old traditions and mindset as she breaks the third wall and the sun finally sets on her unimpressed facial expressions - almost a metaphor to reflect she remains set in her ways while the rest of her family moves on to break these habits.

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