Reviews

Capturing The Friedmans

5

Incredible to think that it started as a documentary about children's clowns. Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki discovered the Friedmans while interviewing David, now New York's most successful birthday-party clown. He learned how David's father Arnie, a nerdy, retired science teacher who gave computer lessons at his home, was caught ordering child porn. And he heard how an avalanche of charges from creating obscene videogames to brutal sodomy - collapsed in on Arnie, dragging his son Jesse under, too. But as Jarecki tunnelled deeper into the soul of the tragedy, he didn't find answers. He found a black hole - choked, dark and utterly irresistible. Jarecki's debut project had swerved irretrievably, to become not only a deeply traumatic investigation of a family decimated, but an exposé of US witch-hunting and a doomed interrogation of truth and innocence.

Built partly out of captivating interviews with sons David and Jesse (Seth refused to take part) and their mother Elaine, Capturing The Friedmans also sucks in the police, prosecutors and the now-grown-up kids who took Arnie's computer classes. But there's one more extraordinary extra dimension. The Friedman boys recorded the entire affair on their home-video camera - nearly 50 hours of footage, to which Jarecki was granted full access. The result is a terrifying reality show, in which we see the fabric of a family disintegrating before our eyes, domestic supernovas of debate, sorrow and panic as well as - unforgettably - incendiary, tear-streaked video diaries.

More Errol Morris than Nick Broomfield, Jarecki refuses to platform his own opinion, instead letting the interviewees bury themselves in their own bullshit. See how witnesses were coerced by their neighbours and the police; learn how non-existent stacks of porn were used to convict Arnie and Jesse; and ponder how, despite the spectacular charges of violent sexual abuse, there was no physical evidence. But here's the kicker: Arnie is guilty. It's just that now we must confront what that really means.

These revelations mutate with gripping uncertainty, Jarecki's careful unravelling constantly shattering our perceptions. Who are the realvictims when everyone seems to be - sometimes simultaneously - guilty and innocent? Hypnotised by the elusiveness and illusion of truth, we can never know.

Verdict:

Difficult, unsettling and utterly compelling - feel the poisonous alchemy of social hysteria and buried secrets rot a family away.

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