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Monday, 1 October 2007

John Toliopolis drives a Hyundai to and from his painting business in Queensland. Anna Broinowski, whose documentary Forbidden Lie$, is in cinemas now, doesn't tell us what kind of visa he's on but you can be sure I'm not the only viewer who would like to know. Toliopolis, who does not have U.S. citizenship, is Norma Khouri's husband (the one she denied having when interviewed at the Byron Bay Writers Festival in 2003).

He has a strange Goodfellas accent that kind of declares: 'mob'. He's obviously a charmer but I for one would prefer not to have his company work on my house, especially if I were at work while it was being done.

Khouri, on the other hand, is highly articulate and her success with publishers is not hard to fathom. Caroline Overington, the Australian journalist who, along with the Sydney Morning Herald's Malcolm Knox, appears in this film, simply does not believe anything Khouri says. After watching this doco, it's easy to understand why.

The film is excellent. It is stylish and self-referential, pacy and thorough: Broinowski tries to join all the dots but Khouri seems always to be one step ahead of her. She initially thought Khouri was the scapegoat in a sly campaign by male journalists to demonise her:

"I had this feminist line running in my head," she told The Australian Womens Weekly in February, "that this was a typical witch-hunt ... with mostly male journalists out to make her look evil. That's why I thought I would make this film."

To make the film she travels to Jordan, London, Chicago and Queensland. She talks with doctors, journalists, policemen, experts in psychotic behaviour. She really does try hard. But in the end it's the film itself that wins.

There's something happening here that (a) still needs to be resolved (and FBI investigations are on-going), (b) needed to be aired. It's difficult not to speculate that the only way this story could be aired was in the particular fashion a youthful girl from an immigrant background on-the-make, could manage.

She's certainly got the world's attention. Khouri refuses to deny 'Dahlia', the young, Muslim girl allegedly murdered by her father for dishonouring the family, was real. Here she brings ever more extraordinary evidence to light, but it doesn't wash evenly. Gaps and bald patches multiply under Broinowski's relentless gaze.

The most recent bit of evidence is first revealed here, in the doco. If you don't want the mystery spoiled, stop reading.

Khouri claims her father sexually abused her from the age of four. You can't get more damning evidence that that! Would this, if true, partially help to exonerate her of the outrageous fabrication of Dahlia's story?

It just might. But Overington and Knox will not be deterred from suspicion. In any case, the story has not yet ended. Not only Khouri, now, but Toliopolis, belong, at least in part, to the global community. They are a two of new kind of celebrity: the glamorous fraudster.

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