Forbidden Lie$                                                     

Norma Khouri (or is she?), the subject of Anna Broinowski's spellbinding documentary "Forbidden Lie$", which opened in Los Angeles today.  (Photo: Roxie Theater)

No Need To Ask: She's A Smooth Operator, Causing
Chaos In Multiple Languages and Psychoses

By Omar P.L. Moore/   
Friday, April 10, 2009

An absolutely mesmerizing achievement, Anna Broinowski's memorable documentary "Forbidden Lie$" chronicles the life, times and aliases of Norma Khouri, an author who in 2001 wrote a book called Forbidden Love about an honor killing in Jordan of an Islamic woman named Dalia, slain by her father for a sexual relationship with a man prior to marriage.  The book became an international best seller bringing acclaim to Ms. Khouri for detailing a compelling story about one woman's appalling murder and championing the cause of women facing deadly violence at the hands of their own families. 

But it was all a lie.

Ms. Broinowski, an award-winning Australian filmmaker ("Helen's War") for at least ten years, brilliantly deconstructs and exhaustively investigates Norma, and mines a lot of fascinating things about her in what is one of the year's most engaging and interesting big screen spectacles.  Ms. Broinowski is a significant part of her own film, facing off with her documentary subject.  At times she and Ms. Khouri are competing storytellers in their own separate documentaries, dueling to the very end.  A labyrinthe-like look at the fallout from the disturbing nature of honor killings in the Middle East and elsewhere, "Forbidden Lie$" ingeniously portrays a highly intelligent con artist at work, a virtuoso performer whom the Federal Bureau Of Investigation is still keeping close tabs on.  Filmed in 2006, "Forbidden Lie$" also takes a hard look at the role of media and overzealous journalists in an age where Internet and 24-hour cable news emphasizes instance and immediacy, examining the press' role almost to the point of satire, doing a wicked end run on itself.

Eager and expansive, "Forbidden Lie$", a superbly conceived mystery thriller, might even be too good a film.  It may also be too good to be true but that's a compliment to its ability to provoke thought, discussion and participation.  The documentary, which opened in Los Angeles today at the Laemmle Theater (opened last week in New York City at the Cinema Village), recalls Andrew Jarecki's amazing "Capturing The Friedmans" because it is so detailed, balanced and tightly coiled as a mystery that it is difficult at times to know what the truth actually is, and who in the documentary is telling it.  "Forbidden Lie$" however has the distinction of being more playful and stylistically akin to a fiction feature film than Mr. Jarecki's documentary is.  Employing several styles, technologies and backdrops, Ms. Broinowski's canvas and scope (Chicago, London, Amman, Queensland) is much broader.  ("House Of Games" is a perfect companion film to "Lie$", albeit a fiction feature that you could watch after watching this spellbinding roller coaster ride.) 

Interviews with scholars in Jordan and elsewhere, with a man named John Toliopoulos, Ms. Khouri's husband and ultimate partner in crime, reveal both rigidity and charm.  You admire and almost feel sorry for Ms. Khouri -- she explains herself over and over a hundred different ways to Sunday.  She only wants to do something to prevent the honor killings that frequently occur, but at what cost?  To have a fatwah on her head ala British author Salman Rushdie for his controversial book The Satanic Verses?  Attractive, seductive and physically appealing, yet unnerving via her machinations and lacking a sense of soul and self, Ms. Khouri is the consummate actress and sociopath.  Hollywood couldn't have done this as good or better than Norma Khouri, or for that matter Anna Broinowski.

"Forbidden Lie$" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America but contains some bloody violence and mildly disturbing imagery and language.  The film's duration is one hour and 44 minutes.  In English and Arabic languages with English subtitles.


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