Release Date: April 3 [now in limited release]
Director: Anna Broinowski
Writer: Anna Broinowski
Cinematographer: Kathryn Milliss and Toby Oliver
Studio/Run Time: Roxie Releasing, 104 mins.
Fascinating character study is a duel of lies
The stated purpose of most investigative documentaries is to uncover the truth, but many of them launch their most spectacular fireworks from a substantial platform of lies. And it’s hard to imagine a more compelling liar than Norma Khouri, the subject of Anna Broinowski’s irresistible portrait, Forbidden Lie$. In 2003 Khouri wrote a nonfiction account of the murder of a childhood friend in Jordan. Ostensibly published to expose the injustice of an oppressive, misogynistic society, the book, entitled Forbidden Love, sold hundreds of thousands of copies. But when Khouri became a touring speaker, a few of the book’s details fell apart under the harsh light of scrutiny, like her statement that the city of Amman has a river running through it. It doesn’t. Or her mention that Jordan is bordered by Kuwait. It’s not. Or her implication that police and hospital records would corroborate her dramatic report. They don’t. In fact, Broinowski can’t seem to find any records at all.
One reason the portrait is so much more fun to watch than the straightforward exposé of a publishing fraud is that Khouri herself is such a consummate spinner of tall tales. She doesn’t slam the door in the face of the documentary crew but cooperates fully, laying ever more complex explanations over her inconsistencies. It’s a stunning display of mendacity. Or maybe she’s telling the truth. No. Well? No, surely not.
But beyond her participation, the reason the portrait is so much more satisfying than the typical investigative documentary is that Broinowski neither backs down from nor colludes with her subject. It’s common these days to handle a controversial figure with kid gloves, offering an unbiased view in exchange for access, ending up with a bland he-said-she-said account that takes no sides. But Broinowski and Khouri, thankfully, approach the film as a duel. Broinowski thrusts, Khouri parries. Finding out what, if anything, is true about Khouri’s story is simply the Macguffin for a filmmaker more thrilled by the hunt.
And here’s a tease for those who see the film in theaters: Khouri has recorded a commentary track for the DVD that promises to add yet another layer, or two, or three, to an already onion-like character study.
Watch the Forbidden Lie$ trailer: