Capturing the Friedmans

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 easy-going men of the family and the isolated, emotionally distant mother Elaine.

Andrew Jarecki - who, as a trivial aside, also invented Moviefone - proves himself an adept documentary filmmaker: his film brings up as many questions about family, sexuality, and the legal system as it answers, and there are more twists and turns than in a Hitchcock picture. In the end you start wondering just what is the truth behind this horrible crime, or if there is such a thing as "one" truth to measure. My own feelings are that Arnold and Jesse Friedman were probably unjustly accused, but there are enough disturbing details to throw that situation into a more cosmic sense of guilt and justice. A fascinating family portrait, well worth seeing.