J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Doc: Forbidden Lie$

Most sportscasts decline to air footage of stupid “fans” charging the field of play, refusing to reward such behavior with attention and thereby encourage more such incidents. Maybe that policy should probably be applied prominent media frauds as well, which evidently includes bestselling author Norma Khouri. While her true motives remain obscure, the question of Khouri’s veracity is largely settled in Australian filmmaker Anna Broinowski’s documentary Forbidden Lie$ (trailer here), which opens in New York today.

Norma Khouri was a Jordanian Catholic in hiding from Jordanian Islamists, whose nonfiction account of her best friend’s honor killing became an international bestseller. Except, maybe not. Khouri’s book Forbidden Love did indeed become a bestseller. The truth about everything else, including Khouri’s very name, has been challenged. However, Khouri was so disturbed to see the questions surrounding her book used to undermine the international campaign against honor killing she agreed to participate in Broinowski’s film to confirm the circumstances of her friend Dalia’s murder. Or perhaps, she had another elaborate con to play.

Khouri quickly concedes she altered many of the details of her story to protect the safety and privacy of innocent parties. Her own personal history does not seem to be as she represented either, having spent most of her life in Chicago where she married a colorful Greek immigrant (suspected by some of having underworld connections), and allegedly swindled an ailing neighbor out of her life savings. Aside from the marriage, Khouri denies everything. Say what you will, she certainly does not lack guts. Supposedly wanted by the F.B.I., she brazenly walks into the Feds’ Chicago office, where no one seems to be interested in her.

To prove the underlying truth of her book, Khouri travels to Jordan with Broinowski and crew in tow. Yet, once she arrives, the locations never seem to match her ostensive memories. As Khouri’s story continues to evolve, Broinowski becomes increasingly frustrated chasing down blind alleys after phantom death certificates. Khouri is playing her, which she even boasts about to her bodyguard (or whoever he really is) in a surreptitiously recorded video. However, the real nature of her game is never revealed.

The greatest flaw in Lie$ is that the film is essentially unfinished. Perhaps she fabricated her book for a quick publishing buck, but just what Khouri expected to accomplish in Jordan is never revealed. She obviously goes to a great deal of effort for no apparent pay-off. Was it all just for attention? If so, Broinowski obviously rewarded her con in grand style. In truth, we never really learn who this person is or what her motives might be.

Ultimately, Lie$ only succeeds in discrediting an honor killing account, while leaving its main character a maddening cipher. So why release an incomplete film? It certainly was well received in certain quarters of the Islamic world, winning the Golden Award for long-form documentary at 2008 Al Jazeera Film Festival. (Writing about the fest, Broinowski gushes about the “refreshingly brazen critiques of US foreign policy.” Evidently, Broinowski has never attended an American or European film festival, where such fare is standard, but good luck programming a “brazen critique” of Islamist human rights abuses under Sharia Law.)

Clearly, some are quite pleased with a film which brings disrepute to the international campaign against honor killing through guilt by association with an almost certain fraud. Audiences who do not share such an agenda might be intrigued by the twists and turns of Khouri’s mysterious tale, but will be frustrated with the many questions Lie$ leaves unresolved. It opens today in New York at the Cinema Village.

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