Thursday, January 22, 2004

REVIEW: Capturing The Friedmans

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Recent Raves)

Where Spellbound (shown as part of a double-feature with Capturing The Friedmans at the Brattle) was a transparent documentary, Capturing The Friedmans allows its makers hands to be very visible. Director Andrew Jarecki does very obvious juxtapositions between opposites - for example, two Sex Crimes detectives describing how to deal with children as potential witnesses and victims - and discusses how father Arnold Friedman and oldest son David filmed their family constantly, resulting in this footage being available. It doesn't make the film less dramatic, but it does counter the fly-on-the-wall feeling somewhat. Which may not be a bad thing, because who wants to be that close to pedophilia and child molestation?

I do feel this movie is somewhat misrepresented - I didn't find it terribly ambiguous at all. I think that by the end of the movie, it's clear that Arnold and his youngest son Jesse are not guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted (hundreds of counts of child molestation). In some ways, I think Jarecki does the audience a disservice by making the case look as strong as he initially does; the real interest, to me, is in how the justice system failed them; while there's a certain voyeuristic interest in watching the family fall apart, it's very specific to that family, as opposed to the more universal idea that justice can be too blind.

It's a good movie, disturbing in multiple interesting ways. That you can sometimes see the hand of the director manipulating your perceptions isn't the worst thing that can happen with a documentary, although it does distract from an otherwise very interesting movie.

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