The Mother of All Lies
Asmae El Moudir (director)
A family’s web of lies and one young girl’s search to find the truth. Through her own voice, Asmae, daughter and filmmaker, flits between national and personal history to tell the 1981 Bread Riots in Morocco and shows how this event connects with contemporary Moroccan society.
It’s summertime and young Moroccan director Asmae goes to her parents’ place in Casablanca to help them move out. Back in her family house, she starts to sort out all the objects of her childhood. At some point, she sees an upsetting photograph: children smiling in a kindergarten playground. On the edge of the frame there is a little girl sitting on a bench, looking shyly at the camera. This picture is the only image of her childhood, the only memory her mother could give to her. But Asmae is convinced that she’s not the child on this picture. Hoping to make her parents talk, Asmae introduces her camera and plays with this intimate incident to talk about other memories that she doesn’t trust either. This photo, a sensitive subject, becomes the starting point of an investigation during which the director questions all the little lies told by her family: is her mother saying the truth about the picture ? Has her father really built with his own hands the Lion of Ifrane ? Does her grandmother say the truth about Asmae’s job and why does she prefer to tell everyone that she’s a journalist? Behind the walls of the house, there is also the neighborhood. And Asmae remembers… The local politician, Sir Abdelkader: is he the generous man offering hammam, meat and plums to the neighborhood or a corrupt politician? Little by little, Asmae explores the memory of her own people - either real or surreal - together with the memory of her neighborhood and country. What’s real in this reconstructed story made out of fragmented childhood memories ? As the lies grow bigger, the director discovers something strange. She discovers a cemetery not far from their home and the strange story of bodies that disappeared 38 years before: the “Bread Riot”. The story of a popular uprising, violently repressed in that neighborhood during Hassan II Dark Years. Surrounded by her parents and neighbors, Asmae creates links between her childhood photo and the Bread Riot on June 20th 1981.
Introduction There are very strong feelings inside me that raise childhood memories in my Casablanca family house. When I close my eyes, this journey is a mix of powerful sounds: my father’s hammer breaking walls, a TV broadcasting Hassan II speeches, Nas El Ghiwane’s music playing on the radio, pans in the kitchen preparing Friday couscous. If I focus even more, these memories become visual and I can see my parents face, my grandmother, our blue door, the King’s picture on the wall. Most of all I can see very clearly a picture of my childhood. The only one. The picture that my mother gave to reassure me. But it never did. I’m convinced that it’s not me on this picture and that my mother lied to me. At the time of this event, I’m twelve years old. My friend Raja is showing me her holiday picture in Tangier when I realize that I have no pictures of myself as a little girl. But I am fascinated by the imagery that overflow from my friends’ photo album. I like to get lost in these albums and tell myself all kind of romanticised stories. But when I ask my mother about my own childhood pictures, the only one she finally gives to me is the picture of another girl. This lie, a sensitive memory of my teenage years, is my first big conflict with my mother. After numerous fights, she finally reveals her secret. Her mother-in-law, an authority figure and chief of family, always refused any human representation inside the house, in the name of our religion: Islam. The day my mother brings my sister to a photoshoot, my grandmother is so angry that she beats her up when she comes back. At the same time forced to obey to my grandmother and confronted to my constant requests, she has no other choice than go take the picture of an other child and secretly give it to me. She invents this story, plays with past in order not to face reality and not to hurt me. Later on I will discover that this kind of reaction is symptomatic of Morocco’s attitude towards its past. For example, at the beginning of my project, my grandmother didn’t want to be filmed. Once again it’s the question of human representation that is an issue. This brings me to question the relationship of each one of us with images. Mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s but mostly my country’s, that sometimes prefers to erase all image of its own past, like the Bread Riot’s.