‘Kadib Abyad (The Mother of All Lies)’ review: Asmae El Moudir stunningly recreates a buried Moroccan past | Cannes
Over the last few years, a strong ascension of Moroccan cinema started taking shape on an international scale, with the effective participation of major fresh voices like Alaa Eddine Eljem, Meryem Benbarek, Maryam Touzani and Kamal Lazraq, who are trying to share their stories with the world. Although, some of these filmmakers face a common criticism: their films speak to people from all over the world except for their central audience, the Moroccan population. These recent successful Moroccan productions have been traveling all around the world, securing acclaim and future opportunities for their helmers; but the Moroccan audiences have felt the detachment growing with every new production when most of these works are perceived as if they were made for outsiders; this phenomenon has been apparent with different symptoms: casting failures, incapacity to set the local ambiance, or simply a lack of truth.
Among the many Moroccan hopefuls in Cannes this year, Asmae El Moudir stands out as a strong emerging filmmaker. By constantly fighting to make documentary features, she has become one of the most notable and celebrated short and mid-length directors of the Kingdom by winning multiple prizes in festivals from all over Morocco. With Kadib Abyad (The Mother of All Lies), premiering at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section, Asmae El Moudir doesn’t take much time to attract us to the film that she spent years trying to make; after all, the subject is personal as she invites her family members, friends, and neighbors to tell their stories from a dark and different time in the political Moroccan landscape.
The Mother of All Lies starts revealing its formally elaborate structure with a stunning handcrafted recreation of the chief characters in form of figurines – other than Asmae, we are acquainted with her father Louri, a real life mason who once had big dreams to be a football player. Her mother Ouarda, who designs all the figurines’ costumes and her neighbors Abdallah and Said. And her patronizing grandmother Zahra, whose presence is show-stopping. As we get to know these individuals, we discover the whole neighborhood; every single detail about it is well presented and each and every place surrounding the family’s home was built again, just like El Moudir remembers it, to immerse the viewer in the heated personal ride she is about to uncover. And before the story takes a big political swing, Asmaa El Moudir uses her own world to narrate a story about growing up in a house that has no pictures in it, as the only photograph she was shown of herself is unclear which makes her doubt its integrity.
El Moudir’s suspicions began when she discovered that the only photograph she was shown of herself as a kid is unclear which made her doubt its integrity. Small questions lead to bigger ones as the film progresses from personal and intimate stories into damning recollections from one of the bloodiest moments in recent Moroccan history: The 1981 Moroccan riots also known as the Casablanca bread riots; a major event where many young people from impoverished towns of the country, could not handle the strident increase in the price of bread before taking it to the streets. El Moudir invites her close circle, who lived through the atrocity of it all, as they tell their account regarding the infamous events. Though, what makes the film rich is the way it presents this group, as well as the whole neighborhood, as a systematic trope to explain the political combinations of Morocco at the time.
With her entourage, El Moudir may have unintentionally used the retelling of the wounding past as a therapy, and even then, she never falls into the classical traps of documentary filmmaking regardless of the strong narrative any other filmmaker would’ve milked to exhaustion. Her innovative storytelling holds the viewer’s attention with its deliberate childish trait; assisted by the filmmaker’s narration and all the powerful monologues illustrating blunt descriptions of the story as it goes darker beyond the simple fable. With this film, El Moudir gives her countrymen a documentation to make up for years of obstruction and to immortalize a whole age without losing the Moroccan touch. After all, The Mother of All Lies is a film she has made for her country by using its language and culture.
This review is from the 2023 Cannes Film Festival where The Mother of All Lies played in the Un Certain Regard section. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.