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Heroes of the Zeroes: Capturing the Friedmans

by on February 22, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

“Capturing the Friedmans”
Not Rated
2003

As a lamentation of Long Island life, 2003’s “Capturing the Friedmans” played like the darkest pop song Billy Joel never wrote — a documentary about criminal allegations that shredded the already tenuous seams of the Friedman family of Great Neck, N.Y.

By many early accounts, the Friedmans were normal, with peccadilloes perhaps odd to outsiders. But child-pornography charges against patriarch Arnold snowballed into suspicion he and youngest son Jesse sodomized boys in their home.

Discrepancies riddled all sides. What of Arnold and Jesse’s testimony can be believed? Did aberrant pornography in a posh neighborhood create an easy scapegoat for other kids’ problems? Was the cops’ questioning coercive? Did disbelieving family members simply have on blinders?

No more definitive were chillingly casual Friedman-filmed home videos that directly discussed the accusations. Simple Seders turned defensive, particularly for matriarch Elaine — defensive less of Arnold, but of her judgment in committing to a life with his lies.

Benefiting from this footage, director Andrew Jarecki showed the Friedmans forever defining themselves by an omniscient camera — especially Arnold, who saw video as a document of his purported progress beyond problems.

However willingly, the Friedmans squirmed under a microscope in fascinatingly — and frustratingly — inconclusive ways. The only clear answer in “Friedmans” was that they imploded under mistrust and dysfunction.

Never subjective or opportunistic, “Friedmans” hauntingly asked how far faith goes when it comes to family, how much mercy we’d grant them based merely on our memories and how forgiveness sometimes endures years of fury before it’s granted.