"Lies" is a fascinating documentary that brilliantly challenges a controversial author
Who knew that one of the most fascinating characters in film this year was out of a documentary.
Forbidden Lies is a documentary about the deception behind an international bestselling novel that was sold as a true story revealing terrible murders taking place in Jordan.
The film focuses on the author of the book, Norma Khouri, who is surrounded by a mysterious past and dives into her psyche and challenges you to make a decision on whether or not she is a con artist.
When the film starts out it plays out likes it's going to give further recognition to a novel that uncovers a form of killing in Jordan called "honor killing" that happens when a daughter in a family does something disgraceful.
Shortly after carrying an uplifting and moralistic tone idolizing the book, it quickly changes gears to reveal people who believe the book to be complete fiction. After that point the film picks up on what its real story is about.
This is a slow peeling documentary that steadily unravels the multiple levels of shady truth behind the history of the book and Norma Khouri. When we are first introduced to naysayers of the book, it only seems they are attacking the small details of the book and that Norma is misrepresenting Jordan as a women oppressing state.
Shortly thereafter, more and more deceptions are revealed about the author, having you really begin to question the legitimacy of the novel and the true motivations of the author. As the film goes deeper and deeper into the history behind the book, having a first hand interaction with Norma and the naysayers, the film attempts to give as many facts as possible about the story to let you make a decision on your own.
The documentary's direction is very brash with style in the vein of Michael Moore, where it has lots of inventive editing, unique animations, and neat cinematography. There was also inventive set designs with the interviews and presentation of facts. With the brashness though it is very hit or miss, where there are definitely creative decisions made that bog down the film.
Another double sided element of this film is that it felt very authentic and personal. The film really goes out of this way to show you how genuine the information being displayed is, which I really appreciate when so many documentaries feel too biased or contrived. But while this documentary was able to escape appearing contrived, it did not totally escape feeling biased. Due to the frankness on display, you see that there is a level of tension between the director and Norma, where they do not trust each other. Because of this, there were times when the film seemed to accidently paint Norma too negatively.
Despite that occasional bias, I believe it added to the overall gravity of the subject manner, in particular the complexity of Norma. As we dive deeper into Norma's story, you realize that there is so much more than what you hear and see from this woman. You see how there are so many facts she skews and there are even moments where she blatantly deceives the film makers, but then doesn't own up to it. You are never sure of how much of her life is a lie, but you do know that she is lying. Watching the film dissect her is fascinating because she is such an enigma of a person, that you are just amazed in the complexity of her deception and how she bounces between truth and lies.
We have all seen characters in movies who blur the lines between truth and lies and are constantly toying with your perception. But to see an actual person embody these characteristics to such an extreme is astounding to watch. Though this film might not always be firing on all cylinders, when it does, it brilliantly unravels a supposed con that keeps you engaged and captivated.