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Capturing the Friedmans - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

TWO films became the talk of this year's Sundance Film Festival - the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner, American Splendor, and the best documentary, Capturing the Friedmans.

The latter tells the infamous story of Arnold Friedman and his son, Jesse, then 19, who pleaded guilty to several counts of pedophilia in 1988.

Arnold has since died in prison, but Jesse has been released, and is considered a level 3 sex offender under Megan's Law.

Jesse is required to wear a plastic monitoring device at all times and cannot leave the island of Manhattan.

He is also forbidden from living in a building where there are children or go places where children can be found.

According to director, Andrew Jarecki, in an interview with CNN, the film is more about the effects of the situation on the family, than it is an out and out tale about paedophilia.

Ironically, however, the film was never to have been about either subject.

Jarecki's original idea for his first feature was a documentary on New York City birthday clowns, but while researching the subject, he learned that one of his subjects, David Friedman, had a complicated and disturbing story to tell - that of his father and younger brother.

Jarecki was intrigued by the story, particularly as both Jesse and Arnold consistently denied the charges, and, using portions of the family's home movies and interviews with the Friedmans, their relatives, and other participants in their lives, he pieced together a 107-minute film.

The ensuing project took two and a half years to complete, so that a balanced story was presented, which, according to the director, offers no easy answers and leaves it up to audiences to decide where the truth lies.

Jarecki, himself, states that there should have been a trial (Jesse and Arnold cut a deal, eventually), particularly given evidence which does seem to cast doubts over the relevance of the police's case against them.

But whether audiences believe the family members were guilty or not, the film certainly seems to have struck as big a chord with the critics, as it did with the Sundance judges.

US reaction

The word on this one was universally positive, with many echoing the sentiments of the Sundance panel in describing it as one of the best documentaries in ages.

Newsday leads the way, stating that 'Jarecki has taken an impossible subject, and subjects, and made a movie that works as crime thriller, social document and, occasionally, surrealist comedy'.

While Variety stated that it is 'an incredibly tough, uncompromising piece that showcases a densely perverse world and doesn't easily let go'.

Entertainment Weekly awarded it a straight A and wrote that it 'may be the most haunting documentary since Crumb', while E! Online also awarded it the maximum A and predicted that it 'will definitely get your undivided attention'.

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, stated that 'it's hard to imagine a more troubling or perplexing documentary than Capturing the Friedmans'.

And the New York Daily News felt that 'this extraordinary film refracts truth through the prism of memory, until what you get is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, full of sacrifice and betrayal'.

USA Today opined that 'not since Memento has a movie served up such a provocative mind-bender, and the Sundance winner by first-time filmmaker Andrew Jarecki has the advantage of being true'.

While Village Voice's critic wrote that 'I've seen only a few films in my lifetime that so potently express the golden hopes of childhood and parenthood'.

The San Francisco Chronicle continued the positive vibe, stating that 'it leaves us puzzling, long after the film has ended, about the Friedmans' strange family dynamics, about the justice system and community that condemned them, about the elusive nature of 'truth'.

The Washington Post added that 'Jarecki has created a tour de force of narrative ambiguity, and in doing so has made one of the most honest reality shows ever'.

While Rolling Stone predicted that 'this movie will pin you to your seat'.

And the final three words go to the Big Apple's critics, with the New York Post describing it as 'a remarkable and shattering documentary'; the New York Times stating that it is an 'engagingly evenhanded and intelligently assembled first feature'; and, finally, the New York Observer concluding that 'it's fascinating because you've never seen a more dysfunctional family in broad daylight, and it's disturbing because it straddles the fine line between responsible filmmaking and callous sensationalism'.

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