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Forbidden Lies

aka - Forbidden Lie$
Australia 2007
Directed by
Sally Regan / Anna Broinowski
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Forbidden Lies

Synopsis: Author Norma Khouri wrote a best-selling book called Forbidden Love, in which she claimed to be on the run from her homeland of Jordan, after her best friend Dalia was murdered by her father. Dalia was the alleged victim of an honour killing because she had dared to meet with a Christian boyfriend. But in 2004 while Norma was enjoying the publicity circuit in Australia, Aussie journalist Malcolm Knox exposed the book to be a fraud with the author actually being a Chicago-born con-woman who was wanted by the FBI . Norma decides to drag the film-maker to Jordan to prove that all the allegations against her are false and that there actually is truth to her story. However, the more she talks to the director and the audience, the more convoluted the tale becomes and we are left thinking this real-life thriller will never be unravelled.

This exciting and highly entertaining documentary is presented in a way that has us really wondering about the fine line between truth and fiction. It opens with Norma reading excerpts from her book. She then tells us how she and Dalia ran the first unisex hair salon in Amman, where Dalia fell for Michael. She explains how after Dalia’s murder she fled in fear for her life and then wrote the book and used the proceeds to set up an organisation to fight the Middle Eastern practice of honour killings. We meet other women inspired by Norma’s crusade, and one who even wrote a song in Norma’s honour. Then abruptly we are told: “This is not the truth.”

We hear from Rana Husseini, a Jordanian journalist with particular interest in honour crimes who systematically begins to discredit much of what Norman has written, catching her out in more than 70 factual errors that show the book, has a lot of dodgy assertions in it. Interesting visual effects are used to emphasise things that were untrue. For example, when it is revealed that a certain hotel was not built at the time of writing, we see the “deconstruction” of the hotel on screen. Actors play many of the people from Norma’s book, but she herself is the main “character”, in all her pathological lying glory! Other associates who were taken in by her or even party to her scams, all appear as themselves and it’s remarkable how Broinowski got some of them to reveal themselves in such a negative light!

What’s so much fun in this film is the way we as an audience, and it would seem Anna, the director, really want to discover whether there is some modicum of truth to Norma’s story. As they tour around Jordan hoping to find concrete evidence of Dalia’s murder, it is intruiging to see how Norma manages to extricate herself from each situation and move the “truth goalposts” with another reconstructed set of “facts”. The woman is so plausible, we really want to believe her. However at times the stories she weaves, along with the revealed facts of her background, become so convoluted as to become a little bamboozling to follow.

Broinowski never really takes much of a narrative voice, preferring to allow Norma to speak for herself and the others players to put their viewpoints forward. Another interesting creative device is that of dividing the film up into segments, each opening with Norma exhaling cigarette smoke, a recurring motif for the general smokescreen she throws over everyone who tries to get at the truth.

As a real-life thriller this entertains whilst raising the scepto-meter a notch or two!




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