The fifth edition of the True/False Film Festival doesn't officially kick off until Friday evening, but a night full of screenings on Thursday got Columbia in to the swing of things, ending with perhaps the most appropriate of all films for a festival that lives on the line between fact and fiction, Anna Broinowski's FORBIDDEN LIES.
The film introduces us to Norma Khouri, who is in exile from her native Jordan, having fled in the aftermath of the murder of her best friend, Dalia. The friend is the apparent victim of an honour killing - where women are killed by members of their own family for disgracing the family unit. In this case, Dalia, a Muslim, had secretly been dating a Christian man. Fearing for her own life, Khouri goes to Greece where she begins to write the story of her friend's murder. That book becomes a worldwide best seller and Khouri launches a worldwide education campaign to expose the epidemic of honour killings in Jordan.
This information is conveyed through a variety of highly stylized interviews and recreations of Dalia's meeting and courtship. These recreations reach a fever pitch when the film introduces a singer/songwriter who has composed a maudlin ballad lionizing Dalia's story and the courtship between Dalia and her Christian beau is seen in music video form. Even as someone who is a strong proponent of stylization and construction, it felt like the movie was going off the rails - and we're only 20 minutes in.
But to Broinowski's deep credit, this sense of spinning out of control is all part of the plan, because it turns out that Khouri may have made the whole story up. It may be that Khouri is one of the greatest - or most desperate - con women alive. And for the next hour plus, Broinowski pulls back layer after layer of one of the most intriguing and fascinating films I've seen in some time. Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? What part of the filmmaking is completely fabricated? Is the backdrop behind Khouri even real? Broinowski weaves a technically brilliant storyline that includes her own deft and pinpoint interview skills.
As Khouri - who becomes one of the great characters of nonfiction film - states at one point about her story: "It's not fact, it's not fiction, it's faction." Welcome to True/False in a nutshell.