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Forbidden Lie$ (2007)


Forbidden Lie$ is a real-life thriller about the incredible journey of author, Norma Khouri, to defend herself against claims that her best-selling book, Forbidden Love (2003), was fraudulent. Forbidden Love is about the honour killing of Dalia, Khouri’s best friend in Jordan. Dalia, a Muslim woman, fell in love with a Christian man and was killed by her father and brothers. The book was published in 15 countries and had a readership of over 500,000 (half of them in Australia). Sydney journalist Malcolm Knox exposed the book as a fake in 2004. Forbidden Lie$ takes Norma Khouri to task over her writing, claims, lies and life story and Khouri gives as good as she gets. The film uses observational footage, CGI, stylised re-enactments, readings from the book and interviews to tell a complicated but engaging and entertaining story.

Curator’s notes

Anna Broinowski, the director of Forbidden Lie$, was not even interested in reading Forbidden Love (2003) because she felt it smacked of anti-Muslim propaganda. But when Khouri was exposed by Malcolm Knox as a con artist on the run from the FBI, Broinowski could immediately see a potentially interesting documentary. She acted on that instinct and, luckily for her, Khouri cooperated, saying that she wanted to get honour crimes back in the media spotlight.

In the film, Khouri seems a master at manipulation and Broinowski gets visibly frustrated with her while shooting. But filmmaker and subject prove a good match as Broinowski says she is interested in the delightful symbiosis that exists between the con artist and the filmmaker. Both use a million imperceptible deceptions to manipulate the way people think. Both are in the business of making illusions 'real’. Broinowski was determined to play with truth and be a practitioner of illusion, just like Khouri.

From the very beginning, Broinowski sets the scene for filmic 'illusion’ by using CGI. Norma Khouri is seated reading her book in a white studio, with a small window in the background. The camera zooms in past Norma Khouri, through the window and out to a breathtaking aerial track of the desert landscape. Broinowski also counters this illusion with the crew and filming equipment visible around Khouri in the studio. Along with CGI, Broinowski’s camera framing deliberately positions her interview subjects. All of Khouri’s enemies appear on the right-hand side of the frame and all her supporters on the left, with Khouri herself in the middle. The filmmaker presents the film as a courtroom drama with the audience as judge and jury.

There are interviews with journalists, activists opposed to honour killings, a lie detector operator, friends, family and publishers. An unusual and rather brash technique of Broinowski’s is showing her interview material to the other parties. For instance, she screens clips of Khouri’s interview to husband John or to journalist David Leser, and vice versa, then films them watching and responding to what they see. The resulting moments are weird and wonderful.

Although Broinowski feels she was betrayed and deeply hurt by Khouri, she also felt protected from her by being the filmmaker behind the camera. She knew the fantastic footage she was getting of a real con artist at work was 'gold’.

Forbidden Lie$ is confronting, engaging and amusing in all its twists and turns. Audiences have to make up their own minds about Norma Khouri but will probably come away with a better understanding of what life is like in Jordan, especially for women, than they would gain from reading Khouri’s book.

Forbidden Lie$ won Best Documentary from the 2007 Australian Film Critics’ Association and was nominated for Best Documentary, Best Direction, Best Editing and Best Sound at the 2007 AFI Awards.

Forbidden Lie$ was released in Australian cinemas on 13 September 2007.