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Forbidden Lie$

Other // R // September 28, 2010
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Brian Orndorf | posted October 18, 2010 | E-mail the Author

THE FILM

In 2002, Norma Khouri penned the Jordanian memoir "Forbidden Love" (aka "Honor Lost"), recounting the tragic tale of her friend Dahlia, who was murdered by her brother in 1996 under the guise of an "honor killing," after her illicit affair with a soldier. Published around the world, the book was an immediate smash, sending Khouri on a media appearance tour where she recounted her life after the devastating murder and touted her quest to spotlight Middle Eastern violence against women. Khouri became something of a superhero to the public, finding fame, fortune, and the attention of millions as she carefully rode the wave of success.

And then people started researching the book's events.

"Forbidden Lies" is a blistering Australian documentary from director Anna Broinowski that probes Khouri's story with hope to uncover the truth behind various accusations of fraud that popped up after the book's publication. What I presume started as a simple concerto of explanation from Khouri to silence her detractors (shot with an overabundance of Errol Morris-inspired stylistic choices) became something more in a hurry, as Broinowsky began to peel back the layers of the author's lies and crafty misdirection to find that almost nothing written in "Forbidden Love" was rooted in fact.

The crux of the documentary is Khouri's participation, sitting down for interviews with the filmmaker to describe her experience with "Forbidden Love" and the fallout that destroyed her writing career. It would be spoiling the picture's many fantastic surprises to fully explore Khouri's dynamic pathology, but her caustic, backpedaling personality is a cinematic gift that Broinowski unwraps gently. Khouri, even in the face of hilariously damning evidence against her, stands tall in front of the camera, openly changing her story and playing mind games to reclaim the upper hand. She's a riveting persona to watch, especially when backed into a corner in a smooth-talking huckster style dramatized a few years ago in the Lasse Hallstrom picture, "The Hoax," that showcased fellow publishing world deceiver, Clifford Irving.

Taking the story all over the globe, Broinowsky doesn't immediately damn Khouri. In fact, the filmmaker appears to side with the author in the early going, desperate to find any scrap of accuracy to salvage the book's tarnished reputation. Interviewing Jordanian medical experts, FBI agents, Khouri's estranged husband, and morally iffy Australian journalist Malcolm Knox (the man credited with sniffing out Khouri's deception), the documentary builds an amazing case against the book, eventually turning against Khouri in the final act, where her troublemaking past comes to light. Broinowsky soon becomes a character in her own film, finding Khouri's dishonesty too much to swallow as she frantically attempts to reason with the mentally disturbed writer when distanced observation fails.

THE DVD

Visual:

The anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.78:1 aspect ratio) has a real problem with pixelation, which disrupts most of the visuals here, along with some instances of EE and ghosting. Colors are drab and skintones are flat, yet black levels somehow survive, though nothing is extraordinary here. The film deserves much better than this disc offers, though I'm sure the feature will never receive another shot at release. I recommend the film, but this DVD looks awful.

Audio:

The 2.0 Dolby Digital mix is very simple, with a comfortable balance of interview segments and directorial flourishes. It's basic, with little oomph or smoothness, offering the listener a limited aural experience, with only a few scoring cues bringing about some sense of depth.

Subtitles:

No subtitles are offered.

Extras:

The feature-length audio commentary with director Anna Broinowski and star Norma Khouri should've been an amazing showdown between opposing forces of perspective. Instead, it's a dreary conversation where Broinowski quizzes Khouri on the facts of the case and how she feels about her cinematic representation. The star is expectedly jumpy with answers and challenges to her "porkies," but it's basically an extension of the documentary, not a survey of what was shot. The track is a disappointment.

"Director's Diary" (12:47) is a peek into Broinowski's personal life during the shoot, where she confesses her fears and questions to a camera. As Khouri's lies add up, the director's anxiety and irritation deepens. It's an enlightening look at the flip side of the documentary.

"Interviews with the Filmmakers" (9:45) sits down with Broinowski and producer Sally Regan as they discuss the origins of the project and how they interacted with a slippery Khouri.

"Deleted Scene: Norma the Actress" (4:21) is a sequence isolating Khouri's con artist skills, bringing in actress Miranda Otto to showcase how easy emotions can be manipulated.

"Featurettes" (20:44) are brief deleted scenes covering more of Khouri's deceptions, personal interactions, and frantic reactions.

A Theatrical Trailer is included.

FINAL THOUGHTS

To her credit, Khouri weaves a compelling story even if she can't back up her facts with evidence. She claims the book to be a work of "faction" (fiction and fact), hiding behind a cloud of cigarette smoke and rehearsed responses. Her transparency is stunning and so is this flashy documentary, delivering an astounding, enraging story of literary deception and moral bankruptcy that's thrilling to watch.


For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com
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