Forbidden Lie$ presents two sides of Norma Khouri, a Jordanian national, author of a best-selling account of her friend’s honor killing. The book, Forbidden Love, was a best-seller in Australia, and Norma enjoyed some righteous celebrity before investigative journalists and careful readers from Jordan and Australia revealed some major factual inaccuracies in her book, calling into question whether such a killing even took place, or if it was simply a fiction designed to exploit the West’s prurient interest in the supposed barbarity of the Middle East for maximum profit. The publisher pulled the book, tarnishing Khouri’s reputation. Further investigations raised the possibility that Khouri had a history of lying and scheming. Forbidden Lie$ leaves the viewer to judge, but the evidence seems hardly in Khouri’s favor.
Khouri sits in a dark room, glibly presenting her case to the camera, serious, smiling at odd moments (such as when she first mentions her friend’s murder, "the straw that broke the camel’s back"), but grows evasive as former friends, detectives and journalists present their doubts about her in separate interviews. (She and her opponents are often shown watching videos of each other’s interviews and bursting with incredulous laughter). These interviews are combined with sound effects and actors’ reenactment of the honor killing, but most striking is the developing contrast between the directness and dispassionate accounts of her once-devoted friend in Australia or a Jordanian journalist-activist who fights honor killings in Jordan, and the confusing meld of half-truths and ambiguities from Khouri, who says things like "I lied for a reason", and is eventually compelled to call her writing "faction": fact and fiction together. Khouri’s self-defense starts out sounding like the passionate grievances of a refugee, but ends up sounding like paranoid delusion.
A brief trip to Jordan with director Anna Broinowski, a marginal but persistent presence in the film, is enlightening, as it seems that Khouri is not welcome in her native country, but perhaps not for the reasons she claims. Although Khouri is a unsettling subject for a documentary, either a compulsive con woman or a misunderstood champion of women’s rights, the film is engrossing to the end.