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“The Mother of All Lies” reviewed

Asmae El Moudir grew up in a household where photos weren’t allowed. Her grandmother Zahra, an old crone of a woman who cruelly spits out words to demean her daughter and granddaughter with little regard for their feelings, had always forbid them. No wonder she’s less than thrilled about Asmae’s decision to begin chronicling her own family history for what becomes “The Mother of All Lies,” an evocative and heartrending documentary that will force them all to reckon with that one fateful evening in 1981 when riots and mass graves in Casablanca rocked family and country alike into a forgetful haze that was as urgent then as it is painful now.

To accomplish this, El Moudir has recruited her father to help her construct a replica of the neighborhood she grew up in. This handcrafted vision of their shared past, replete with handmade doll-like figurines of family members and neighbors, becomes a place where family secrets and memories — not to mention long-simmering resentments — come to a head.

At first, the question of why El Moudir only has one photo from her childhood (a picture she now worries isn’t even of herself at all) is what drives her into this intimate if makeshift home movie, where dolls and cardboard-made spaces are called to stand in for moments and memories that have been kept locked away for years. But soon her artistic impulse to nurture catharsis through make-believe keeps running up against not just her prickly grandmother’s disavowal of such concerns but also the more long-lasting trauma this hand-painted Casablanca backdrop cannot help but call up.