by Mel Valentin
SCREENED AT THE 2008 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Directed by Anna Broinowski, "Forbidden Lie$," a documentary explores and dramatizes the furor surrounding "Forbidden Love" (released in the United States as "Honor Lost"), a non-fiction memoir written by Norma Khouri, a Jordanian living in Australia, and published by Random House in 2003. "Forbidden Love" focused primarily on the supposed murder of Khouri’s Jordanian friend, Dalia, by her family as part of an “honor killing” (killings authorized by Bedouin tradition to safeguard a female relative’s chastity and a family’s reputation) for falling in love with a Palestinian Christian. "Forbidden Love" became an international bestseller, selling close to 500,000 in 16 different languages. A year later, Malcolm Knox, a literary editor for the "Sydney Morning Herald," exposed "Forbidden Love" as hoax.Taking her cues from Errol Morris (Standard Operating Procedure, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, The Thin Blue Line), dramatizes scenes from Forbidden Love, using an actress, Linda Mutawi, to portray Dalia, while Khouri provides voiceover narration. The recreations quickly give way, however, to an exploration of the truthfulness underlying Forbidden Love and, later, an investigation into Khouri’s past. Broinowski turns first to Khouri’s claims about Dalia and her murder by her family, Broinowski interviews several Jordanians, including Rana Husseini, one of Khouri’s most vociferous critics. Husseini, a Jordanian journalist, specializes reporting about honor killings. Husseini doesn’t dispute that honor killings still occur in Jordan, only that Khouri’s story is filled with factual errors (73 by her count), from details about Jordanian geography to Khouri’s claims that Dalia operated a unisex salon (none apparently exist in Jordan).
"Must-see documentary filmmaking."
Even more damning to Khouri’s claims, however, was Malcolm Knox’s expose debunking Forbidden Love as a literary hoax. While Khouri could and did claim that her Jordanian critics focused on inconsequential errors in her memoirs to cover up government inaction and counter Jordan’s negative image in the Western media, attacking Knox’s motives were less successful. Khouri claimed Knox was manipulating her and her book to advance his career. Between Jordanian-based criticism and Knox’s series of articles, written in conjunction with Caroline Overington, the pressure was on Khouri and her publisher, Random House, to prove the accuracy and veracity of her story. Rather than re-brand Forbidden Love as fiction, Random House ceased publishing Khouri’s book. Random House’s refusal to support Khouri or her book left her reputation as a writer and a self-described advocate against honor killings in tatters.
Broinowski admirably gives Khouri the opportunity to prove her story or at least the essential facts of her story by traveling to Jordan with a film crew to document Khouri’s fact-finding journey. Apparently fearful for her safety, Khouri hires a bodyguard to accompany her to Jordan. Multiple visits to a medical examiner or forensics scientist later prove, at best, inconclusive, or at worst, false. Each time Broinowski catches Khouri in a lie or half-truth, Khouri spins it to reveal a new, previously undisclosed fact, eventually providing Broinowski with Dalia’s “real” name. Caught in another, potentially damning inconsistency, Khouri claims she’ll never reveal Dalia’s real name and risk the safety of her family. With each lie, half-truth, or falsehood that Khouri utters to defend herself and her story, she digs a bigger and bigger hole for herself.Broinowski’s investigation doesn’t end, there. Broinowski digs deep into Khouri’s past, inevitably finding more and more lies or half-truths. While born in Jordan, Khouri grew up on the south side of Chicago in the United States. Her initial claims about not having a family (or, in her words, being “married to the cause”) prove to be untrue. Contrary to how she presented herself, Khouri is married and the mother of two small children. Worse for Khouri, she’s been investigated (but never charged) for defrauding an elderly woman of more than $500,000. Ultimately, the avalanche of lies, half-truths, and falsehoods that Broinowski meticulously documents in "Forbidden Lie$" reveal Khouri as a grifter, a con artist with a fatal flaw: an over-sized ego and sense of entitlement that compel her to seek public appreciation and fame (along with the financial remuneration fame brings, of course).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17424&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/06/08 12:00:00