Capturing The Friedmans

Capturing The Friedmans

***

Reviewed by: David Haviland

Capturing The Friedmans reminded me of Sidney Lumet's classic courtroom drama, Twelve Angry Men. Both films present a third person account of a crime that has apparently taken place, in which the case against the accused initially seems insurmountable, but which is gradually broken down, leaving a gloomy, rather ambiguous conclusion.

Unlike Twelve Angry Men, however, Capturing The Friedmans is a documentary, and an extraordinary one at that. It follows a Jewish family, whose suburban lives are gradually torn apart by allegations of child abuse against the father and one of the three sons. The father, Arnold Friedman, would regularly give music and computer lessons to local children, with the help of his sons, and it was during these sessions that the accusers claim the startling crimes took place.

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What makes the film so astonishing is the wealth of footage available to director Andrew Jarecki, as the family were fanatic makers of home movies. This is used throughout, giving an unprecedented insight into their lives and the damage wrought by the allegations.

Clearly, this is disturbing material, and the amount of home video used makes the film feel invasive and voyeuristic. However doubtful the specific allegations are, the Friedmans are presented as a clearly dysfunctional family, making for some painful scenes, particularly when the children start to turn against their mother, with Arnold silently complicit, as she refuses to assume his innocence. Other moments are darkly comic, such as when Elaine, Arnold's shrewish wife, explains that despite his fondness for child pornography, Arnold could never have presented a physical threat. "They were just something he liked to look at and... meditate."

Really boring for the most part, completely inconclusive, with horribly unpleasant characters. The final question is, did this self-acknowledged paedophile commit these specific acts, rather than the others he admitted to, but wasn't charged?

Why are we supposed to care?

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2004
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A documentary charting the implosion of a family after a child sex scandal.
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Read more Capturing The Friedmans reviews:

Trinity ****1/2
Scott Macdonald ****

Festivals:

EIFF 2003

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