Khouri's simple explanation: "I lied for a reason."

csjlong's picture

I'm hesitant to say too much about "Forbidden Lies" because it's such a pleasure to watch this film's series of increasingly surreal revelations unfold like flower petals. Artificial flowers, that is.

Let's start with the story. In 2002, Jordanian-American writer Norma Khouri published a book called "Forbidden Loves" about a close friend of hers who was murdered in an "honor" killing. She was dating a Christian man, and her father and brothers stabbed her to death for her transgression against Islam. The father was found guilty and given a 3 month sentence for a crime barely even seen as a crime in Jordan (*see below). As the book became a best-seller, Khouri ran the national talk show circuit to tell her story and to help raise funds for charities working to change the laws in Jordan and promote awareness about a scourge that claims the lives of hundreds of women a year in Jordan alone.

"Forbidden Love" was a best seller but, and I can at least give this much away because it's the least surprising part of the story, Australian journalist Malcolm Knox uncovered a few suspicious facts, chief among them that Khouri was living in Chicago during the time she claimed to be in Jordan. The book was declared a hoax by many, but Khouri stuck to her guns, admitting only that she had changed names and dates to protect the real people involved. It wasn't fiction; it was faction. *And regarding the bit about Jordan not treating honor killing as a serious crime, there's room for doubt on that one too. And the number of honor killings in Jordan is in contention as well. Khouri's simple explanation: "I lied for a reason."

Director Anna Broinowski tries her damndest to figure out what those reasons are (and what exactly the lies were) but her subject proves as elusive as she is charismatic which is what makes this tangled web so fascinating to watch as it is spun in ever-more elaborate spirals. And of that I will say nothing more except this: Norma Khouri is a phenomenal storyteller, and aren't all storytellers liars of a fashion? She's also a mesmerizing on-screen presence, one of the most engaging and memorable documentary characters to take the stage in several years.

Like many contemporary documentarians, Broinowski adopts a highly reflexive approach, often showing the stage on which Khouri is interviewed, and emphasizing the manipulations she has to engage in (she lies for a reason) just to keep up with her very manipulative subject. I don't think the film's Hall of Mirrors approach is quite as clever a meta-commentary on documentary production as Broinowski thinks it is, but the film is never anything less than thoroughly compelling.

Broinowski takes some stabs at the investigative journalism form, giving ample screen time to Knox and other skeptics involved in the story, but she's really only interested in uncovering just enough of the truth to keep everyone guessing, and to have fun while doing it. And her strategy pays off handsomely. "Forbidden Lies," unlike most Hollywood thrillers, is a real thriller. If "real" is the right word.


The film is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The image quality is a little soft at times, but overall this is a solid, professional effort.


The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The dialogue is clearly mixed, and there's not much more to say about the audio. No subtitles or closed captions are provided.


The best feature of all is the commentary track by Broinowski and Khouri. This is one of the most absorbing commentary tracks I have heard in a long time, though I once again decline to explain further. This is almost as fun as listening to Hunter S. Thompson on the Criterion release of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

The disc also includes a Director's Diary (13 min.), an interview with Broinowski and producer Sally Regan (10 min.), a Deleted Scene which isn't quite a deleted scene (4 min.) and a Trailer.

Four featurettes about Khouri and some of the other personalities and subjects swirling around the story are also provided – 20 min. total running time for all four.


Do yourself a favor and don't read anything more about "Forbidden Lies." Don't even watch the trailer. Just watch it and enjoy the ride. It will be worth it. Trust me. I wouldn't lie to you.


Film Value