HomeReviewsSundance Review / The Mother of All Lies: Reconstructing Memory

Sundance Review / The Mother of All Lies: Reconstructing Memory

Documentary filmmakers very often focus on exposing the truth, telling stories that haven’t been sufficiently told and striving to broadcast them to a wide audience. This can take a variety of forms, and, in many cases, is inspired by something in their own lives that provokes curiosity. In the case of Asmae El Moudir, she has previously explored her family and their relationship with time and space, and her latest film, The Mother of All Lies, is a fascinating deep dive into her family history and their complicated relationship with their country.

El Moudir begins with a photograph, the only one she has from her childhood in Casablanca. She knows that her grandmother has always said that pictures are against their religion, and that is a jumping-off point for how her parents and her grandmother relate to images of themselves and of others. With her father, El Moudir builds a miniature set that is meant to represent her neighborhood, inviting her family members to trace memories and events while feeling somewhat insulated by the reconstructed version of their longtime surroundings. What she learns is that there is much that she never knew and that her family has tried hard to forget.

The Mother of All Lies is Morocco’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature, an intriguing choice given the tendency for countries to select narrative films (The Blue Caftan, Morocco’s pick from last year, was also shortlisted). It’s in good company with Four Daughters and 20 Days in Mariupol, from Tunisia and Ukraine, respectively, though it has much more in common with Four Daughters, another film from North Africa that finds a filmmaker confronting a mother about the way she raised her children. While that film centers much more on what happened with the children rather than the parents and doesn’t have the same personal connection from the filmmaker herself, they’re linked by their incisive examination of the power of memory.

The Mother of All Lies
Director Asmae El Moudir. Photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo

Just as other documentaries like The Act of Killing and The Silence of Others have exposed the shockingly recent national tragedies of countries around the world, The Mother of All Lies devotes a good portion of its runtime to the Bread Riots, a 1981 revolt by the Moroccan population against rising flour prices that resulted in a brutal and deadly government crackdown. Hearing as El Moudir, who serves as a narrator sharing what feel like stream-of-consciousness thoughts, learns about an influential event that was so repressed both by her government and her family is deeply compelling, since the policy of silence and of forgetting is so interwoven with the way that she has been raised.

Rather than insert herself into her own film in a potentially problematic way that could result in her having a conflict of interest, El Moudir instead invests in its outcome. As a filmmaker, having just one photograph that she isn’t even sure is of her is deeply troubling, and she understands the importance of speaking to her parents and grandmother while they are still alive and can share what they’ve always repressed. This is a personal and intimate story, but also one that’s representative of Moroccan culture and the manner in which some traumatizing events are simply not discussed rather than commemorated for fear of opening old wounds or inviting unwelcome attention that could result in similar persecution.

El Moudir can’t possibly get all the answers that she seeks in this film, but her determination to press the people in her life who have for so many years not been open about so much is impressive. Using the miniature set is also extraordinarily effective, since the absence of archive footage would otherwise be felt and this would be a discussion rather than a recreation. El Moudir demonstrates a tremendous talent for thoughtful and affecting filmmaking, and her being a critical part of it only enhances the experience.

Grade: B+

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

The Mother of All Lies is screening in the Spotlight section at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.

Abe Friedtanzer
Abe Friedtanzerhttps://www.cinemadailyus.com
Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them. He has attended numerous film festivals including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, and is a contributing writer for The Film Experience, Awards Radar, and AwardsWatch.


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