One Born Every Minute
Head cases or hoaxers, fabricators or embellishers, egotistical celebrity-seekers or plain money-grubbers, Ferdinand Demara, Stephen Glass, J.T. Leroy, and Clifford Irving have had their screen days in court. Norma Khouri now gets hers in Forbidden Lie$, the 2007 Australian award-winner that plays like non-fiction.
Banking on public fascination with those whom chance and circumstance have made famous for being famous, director-writer and coproducer Anna Broinowski participates onscreen and is, in effect, a viewer-surrogate who believes, falls into doubt giving way to total skepticism before winding up not sure about anything.
Reflecting on recent scandals of prevarication in media, politics, business, academia and sports, this 104 minutes is stuffed with the familiar experts and other heads at steering wheels or posed against white or amidst the tools and workplaces of their trades. How easily the specialists are taken in, sometimes later to change their tunes, indicates the danger in John Q. Public’s acceptance of them as speakers of gospel, as in the trend wherein major chunks of reporting are no more than online-available quotations.
The film revolves around the character really named Norma Bagain Touliopoulos, played by herself, a better actress than many actresses and a serial con woman. It is not resolved how much truth, if any, lay in her discredited 2003 Forbidden Love or, variously, Honor Lost, billed as an accurate portrayal of intimidation, legal gender discrimination and honor killing of “errant” women in the relatively enlightened Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Neither filmmaker nor film viewer knows where to get a handle as fact after fact contradicts that book about the childhood Muslim friend Dalia (Linda Mutawi) with whom the author opened a unisex hair salon in Amman and helped carry on the clandestine unconsummated affaire with Christian government employee Michael (Farhad Noori) that resulted in the woman’s murder at the hands of father and brothers.
Fame followed publication, illustrated through interviews with literati and activists and clips of television and public appearances by the authoress. However, noting numerous contradictions and errors, Australian journalist Malcolm Knox soon branded the book a fraud. Jordanian feminists, doctors, officials and people in the street deny her assertions, and she is unmasked. Not the claimed virgin with a fatwa on her head like fellow writer Salman Rushdie, she’s a married Chicago mother of two who had fled to Australia just ahead of an FBI investigation into alleged property and bonds fraud.
On an elegant wooden staircase from which she and the director finally break for coffee -- film as film, illusion revealed -- she defends the truth of her account written in an internet café in Greece. Mistakes in geography or chronology, Galois cigarettes or fifty-dinar notes, are dismissed as irrelevant. When morgue or medical records or mobile phone calls do not support her, she backtracks and with complete assurance gives alternatives, changes names to protect those involved, and insists the sole goal is legal and social reform.
The camera accompanies Nora and her bodyguard-perhaps-lover to Amman, where locations and witnesses do not appear or may never have existed, appointments are bungled, and the occasional verification is overwhelmed by accumulated denial. The woman reunites with her long-estranged father, who confusingly seems to be in Jordan and to back her up -- but then is in Illinois, where, she says, he sexually abused her as a child and, at gunpoint, her husband John and mother-in-law Zoe forced her into the fraud.
Never at a loss despite whatever glaring holes appear, Nora does not abandon her stance, though her argument about lies to save women as opposed to government spin that kills people, is a desperation move. “Maybe the result of mental illness,” as TV’s Dr. Drew suggests about celebrity narcissism, she is a fascinating study. But her smoke and mirrors are too much for one movie. Sucked in by her subject, the director gets too close for objective necessary cutting.
(Released by Roxie Releasing; not rated by MPAA.)