I came across Forbidden Lie$, the phenomenal 2007 Australian documentary (directed by Anna Broinowski), while researching for an interview. While perhaps not one of the best made documentaries from a technical standpoint, Forbidden Lie$ is definitely one of the most intriguing and exciting films I’ve seen this year.
Some may recall the worldwide bestselling book Forbidden Love (also known as Honor Lost in the United States), written by Norma Khouri. Released in the aftermath of September 11, Forbidden Love tells the purportedly true story of a Jordanian woman (Khouri’s best friend) who was stabbed to death by her family in an “honour killing” simply because she was in a chaste relationship with a non-Muslim man.
The book brought the insanity of these honour killings to the Western world, and for a while, Khouri was a huge star, appearing at book festivals and on TV shows all around the world, discussing the subject like an advocate and expert. She was pretty, charismatic, passionate, and yet completely inexperienced in love. People lined up for hours just to shake her hand and book signings and people even wrote songs about her. Forbidden Lie$ was ranked by Australians as one of their 100 favourite books of all time, and it was said to have sold over 500,000 copies around the world.
That’s certainly the way Forbidden Lie$ starts out, painting Khouri as a remarkable woman who fled from oppression to tell her amazing true story to the world. But for those who know the story, things suddenly take a crazy turn. I won’t go into it much more than that, but the title of the film says it all.
Proving that truth is stranger than fiction, the film unravels like a well-written mystery — is she telling the truth, just part of the truth, or is everything that comes out of her mouth a bold-faced lie (like George Costanza trying to lie his way out of more lies at all costs)?
Part of the reason the film progresses like this is because director Anna Broinowski approached Khouri with the intention of making a film that would tell her side of the story and exonerate her from all the allegations. So in many ways, the film is really Broinowski’s journey as she goes from stern believer to unconvinced sceptic. Just how far will Khouri go to prove her innocence?
There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns, as more and more secrets start coming out of the woodwork, and yet, as Khouri is often the voice we hear, we feel almost compelled to believe everything she says.
The final half-hour or so may be too long-winded and repetitive, and some of the tactics were a little cheesy, but on the whole Forbidden Lie$ is simply riveting. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about the documentary until only a couple of days ago.
4 stars out of 5
Good news for those who now want to see it: the entire film is available on YouTube in 10 parts. Check it out yourself. Here is the trailer.
And if you want to read more about the story (warning: contains spoilers), I would recommend this article from journalist David Leser, who also appears in the film — Norma Khouri: The Inside Story of a Disgraced Author