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“Kadib Abyad”, Moroccan Asmae El Moudir wants to “speak freely about what happened”

“Kadib Abyad” (“The mother of all lies”) is a film with a unique cinematographic device to address the shadows of the past, from the “dictator” grandmother, to the bread riots in Casablanca in June 1981 Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir has just won the Best Director prize in the prestigious Un Certain Regard section of the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival.

How to unlock family secrets ? When Asmae El Moudir helps her parents move from their family home in Casablanca, she comes across a photo that will trigger an investigation. The director builds her figurine characters and her neighborhood in miniature to deconstruct decades of lies. Thus, she succeeds in having the members of her family talk to each other. Interview.

RFI : What does it mean Kadib Abyadthe original title of your film The mother of all lies ?

Asmae El Moudir : It means “white lie” and in French “The mother of all lies”. Since my short films, I like to have this discrepancy between the original title and its translation, so as not to fall on the direct translation. I like that the Arabic name corresponds to the Arabic culture and the French name corresponds to the beautiful French literature. In French, there is the expression “The mother of all lies”, but in the film, there is also the mother and the grandmother.

► Also to watch : Cannes 2023: British director Ken Loach in a word, a gesture and a silence

You are a director, but beyond your profession, images have always played a very big role in your life. For what ?

Because there was this lack of images. In the film, we start with a photo and end with 500 hours of rushes. It’s like my life. I am part of the 1990 generation. In childhood, there was no Internet. Around the year 2000, the Internet became accessible in Morocco, in working-class neighborhoods. I’m part of the generation that took advantage of this era of imagination, because there was so much nothing, that we were always imagining things. For me, the Internet has destroyed everything, our beautiful imagination. Today, we can’t even imagine anything, because we immediately say: ” Google help us! “. The film is made with the first part of me, not with the second part.

“Kadib Abyad” (“The mother of all lies”), by Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir.
“Kadib Abyad” (“The mother of all lies”), by Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir. © Cannes Film Festival 2023

You have set up a unique cinematographic technical device. Much of the film is shot with miniature figures and houses, exact replicas of the characters and houses in your neighborhood in reality. How did you come up with the idea of ​​making a model film » ?

The idea also came from a lack. There are quite a few films that have already been made with puppets. My idea was not to make a film with puppets. The idea was to find a device that helps me weave the links between the personal and the irrational, without going out of form. Take the viewer by hand, from the first frame to the end. It took a long time. I start with almost nothing and that nothing, it’s me who has to find it as a director. So, I take the time to create my own archives, to end up in my laboratory where I brought back all my characters. That’s when I start to exploit a new form, a hybrid format in the form, but also a way. I was forced to look for such a device, because my characters couldn’t speak in places where they live. For them, ” walls have ears “. They always think that if we talk about our past, it’s something that will hurt someone else. So I prove to them in this film that today we are in a new Morocco, we can talk about our past, we can talk freely about what happened. It is our past. We can’t tell our own stories and someone else gets mad. It is not possible. It is our own past. That happened to us. Me, I like this exploded form, free, flown over, with material from fiction… We’re making a film, but we have to tell a story.

At one point, the “ figurines remember a neighbor who was killed with two bullets in the back of the neck in June 1981. Terrible memories are awakened. We are talking about “ massacre “, of “ butcher’s shop », with hundreds of deaths and people tortured. What happened in June 1981 in Morocco ?

In this film, the facts are real. But the way I tell these facts is different. Everything that is said in this film is real. And it’s so hard that it didn’t have to be told… You had to work on a process, which is part of the film, so as not to be as shocking as what we’re going to tell. What we are saying is not something new. Everyone knows there was this event. Like all countries, we have a past and we are reclaiming this past…

What happened ?

There was a strike, the wand strike. The film is personal and tells our stories. And our stories come at that time, because these events happened in the neighborhoods of Casablanca and I am part of one of those neighborhoods where the riots took place.

Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir after the world premiere of 'Kadib Abyad' ('The Mother of All Lies') at the Cannes Film Festival.
Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir after the world premiere of ‘Kadib Abyad’ (‘The Mother of All Lies’) at the Cannes Film Festival. © Siegfried Forster / RFI

Who built the figurines and miniature houses?

My father is an artist-bohemian. He always worked with his own hands, he never went to school. Maybe I drew my artistic side from him. When I was little, he made me little houses where I could be inside. Eventually we came back to that. We had a little blockage in terms of how to tell the story in these small sets, which are therefore not accessible. But the idea was to return to this naïve gaze of the little twelve-year-old girl who is me.

Your grandmother takes center stage in the story. She is described by everyone as a “ dictator which controls everything, scares everyone and spies on the neighbors. There are several films at the Cannes Film Festival that show the dark, even violent, sides of women. After the #MeToo movement where we focused a lot on the violence of men, did this movement also free the gaze of women directors to show in films today also the dark and violent sides of women? ?

Yes, it’s true. It’s time to say that there are also tough women, and women who can condemn an ​​entire family. But it doesn’t hurt. For me, my grandmother and I, it’s a very beautiful relationship. It’s another generation and I respect his generation. She’s someone who couldn’t change all of a sudden, because she had lived in a Morocco that is not my Morocco. My Morocco to me, today, I feel a certain freedom with artistic expression. I don’t like anything direct, that doesn’t concern me. For that, there was this confrontation with her where I said that I am not a journalist. For me, journalistic questions are more direct. I have nothing against journalists, but a director is someone who seeks form, who seeks how to tell the story that has already been told. I had started with real characters and I ended up with a characterization of my own, like in a fiction. I love to exploit reality with my part of fiction.

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