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Liar, liar, pants on fire

Just got out of Forbidden Lie$, a film by Australian filmmaker Anna Broinowski that starts out as one thing and turns into another. In fact, by the time the film ends, you’re not sure how much of what you just watched was true and how much of it was bunk. All I know for sure is that I loved it!

It’s about Norma Khouri (aka Norma Bagain, who may or may not be wanted by the FBI among others), the author of the best-seller Forbidden Love which is about an alleged “honour killing” in Jordan (wherein a Muslim woman was killed by her family to avenge her dishonouring the family because of a romance with a Christian man). This book is alleged (and generally accepted) to be a hoax. To say that Norma is manipulative and convincing, sneaky and smart is an understatement. She and her massive nerve command and dominate the screen and it is easy to understand how she manages to get away with such amazing shit. ‘Cause, y’see, the book she wrote may not be true at all. Or it may be partly true. Or it could be all true. And she might’ve been abused by her father and her husband and she might’ve stolen $40,000 and a house from her Chicago neighbour (who may or may not have been senile at the time) and she might be wanted by the FBI and she might’ve known somebody named Dalia (or maybe the name was something else) who was killed by her father (or brother). Or mebbe not. Hard to say for sure. This is definitely one of those things that you can draw your own conclusions about, but it sure seems like we meet the World Champeen Con in this film.

Broinowski makes clever use of reinactment (since the whole notion of “truth” is one of the main subjects of the film, this seems quite appropriate to me) and the tales told by Norma throughout the film are contrasted with the versions of the stories told by the others involved. Piece by piece, her story is taken apart and exposed as bullshit (mebbe) but Norma dances around these exposures with grace and amazing endurance–quickly coming up with reasons for why she lied about this or that and how, now, this version is true. Who you choose to believe is up to you.

Broinowski and producer Sally Regan are headed to Chicago to show the film for the first time to Norma tomorrow.


Earlier today, I saw Losers And Winners, which documents the culture clash that happens when a German coke refinery is bought by a Chinese company that comes to Dortmund to dismantle it and carry it back to China, where it will be reconstructed. This dismantling job is being overseen by a few remaining employees of the German company that sold the plant. While the German future looks bleak, the Chinese future looks prosperous–especially if it’s built on the backs of these workers who are dedicated to their jobs despite poor working conditions, poor living conditions, and being so far from family and friends for year-long jobs like this one. Each side tolerates the other with remarkable good humour. It was especially amusing to see the top man on the Chinese side coveting the newest Mercedes SAV at the local dealer while singing odes to Chairman Mao (literally–their weirdly serene, poetic little songs that make reference to, say, Mao’s “gentle smile”).

→ originally published 2007-04-27

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