Capturing the Friedmans

Engrossing documentary about a seemingly ordinary Long Island family that fell apart in 1988 after patriarch Arnold Friedman was caught with child pornography and was subsequently arrested – along with his 18-year-old son, Jesse – for several counts of child molestation. (Arnold taught computers to a number of preteen boys for a couple of years.)

Capturing the Friedmans is less an account of the events than a Rashomon-like examination of the subjectivity of personal experience: how one person's truth is another person's lie. Adding another layer of reality – or surreality – are the home movies that Arnold's oldest son David shot before, during, and after the trial.

Because of the subject matter, this can be dark, troubling stuff, but neither the film nor the family are off-putting. In fact, all three Friedman boys and their father seem like nice, good-humored people. The battle over the guilt of the father, and of the youngest son, takes a back seat to what seems to be a bigger and far more complicated war between the easygoing men of the family and the isolated, emotionally distant mother Elaine.

Director Jarecki – who, as a trivial aside, also invented Moviefone – proves himself an adept documentarian: his film raises several questions about family, sexuality, and the legal system, and there are more twists and turns than a Hitchcock picture. In the end you start wondering just what was the truth behind this horrible crime, or if there even is such a thing as "a" truth. My own feelings are that Arnold and Jesse Friedman were probably unjustly accused, but that there are enough disturbing details in their lives to lend their situation a sort of karmic justice. A fascinating family portrait, well worth seeing.