Capturing The Friedmans

Capturing The Friedmans

****1/2

Reviewed by: Trinity

"There are some things I don't want to talk about", says David Friedman, near the start of this documentary about an extraordinary family.

There are still moral taboos in this desensitised modern world and the Friedmans found themselves accused of one of the worst: paedophilia.

Copy picture

Father Arnold was a retired schoolteacher and skilled pianist, who taught computer classes to kids. Mother Elaine helped to raise the family of three boys: David, Seth and Jesse. After the interception of a magazine, addressed to Arnold, containing child pornography, a search of the house leads to the discovery of more material. This, in turn, instigates a police investigation.

With the media and community against them, the Friedmans try to come to terms with the charges against Arnold and 18-year-old Jesse. And all the time they continue to video the family, bonding, breaking and ultimately falling apart.

Watching a film, full of someone else's home movies, does not sound particularly enticing. But Capturing The Friedmans is so much more than that. Mixing footage from television archives, the family's personal collection and contemporary interviews, director Andrew Jarecki re-examines the case.

It is an interesting subject matter for a documentary, which started off as a piece about New York birthday party clowns - David's current profession. But, as is often the case in life, discoveries are made, which change your perspective, and, here, lead to the uncovering of a dark secret.

Jarecki uses his material to expose flaws in people's recollection of events, suggesting that the case was not as black-and-white as painted at the time. Nothing is quite what it seems: at first Arnold appears to be a respected teacher and loving father, then a monster preying on young children, then a quiet man resigned to his unacceptable desires.

Your perception of people is continually shifting, as other testimonies are added. Soon, you feel you can only trust the video footage to show the definitive history of the Friedmans, but even this may be coloured by your own bias, after watching the film.

Its reluctance to take sides, or provoke emotion, is the film's one drawback. Whilst respecting the audience's intelligence, it fails to be as powerful an inditement as it could have been. This is only a minor quibble, though - Capturing The Friedmans is still the best documentary of the year.

Jarecki uses the footage to examine the family during this crisis. Arnold loved taking pictures, so these are people who have always been making films, not just of big events, but also the little details in their life.

Here we see the different attitudes of family members: resigned Arnold, pragmatic Elaine, angry David and bitter Jesse. We see the boys re-establishing their bond as brothers, the alienation of their mother and the confusion of their father. We see David's unswerving protectiveness of his father and denial of any of the claims, even when Arnold himself admits to possessing child pornography.

All of this is very moving and yet you cannot help feeling a little voyeuristic, especially when watching the clips from David's private video diary, the night before his father leaves. Nevertheless, you sense that this is some sort of cathartic healing process, a chance to bury the ghosts and try to build new lives.

A horrifying, endearing, contradictory, moving masterpiece of a normal dysfunctional family.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2003
Share this with others on...
Capturing The Friedmans packshot
A documentary charting the implosion of a family after a child sex scandal.
Amazon link

Read more Capturing The Friedmans reviews:

Scott Macdonald ****
David Haviland ***

Festivals:

EIFF 2003

Search database: