Tuesday, June 26, 2018

In short: Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

One of the reasons – apart from us humans being inherently drawn to the torrid and the unpleasantly spectacular – many of us find the true crime genre so fascinating is its promise of bringing to light the truth about crimes forgotten, unsolved or just ignored.

Then comes along something like Andrew Jarecki’s brilliant, sad and disturbing documentary about a family’s breakdown following the father’s and one of the son’s arrests for an incredible amount of cases of child molestation, and the whole idea of finding the truth, be it criminalistically, journalistically or scientifically becomes doubtful, things turning into a grey muck of doubt.

Despite the father Friedman actually being a self-confessed paedophile, some or all of the cases – that seem cartoonishly crass in their description - may not actually have happened, for what the film reveals about the police investigation suggests more of a witch hunt than any attempt at trying to find the truth, done by people with little clue about how to handle child witnesses or how to keep a community from going into hysteria. At least once memories of supposed victims are only revealed under hypnotic regression therapy, their use as actual depictions of facts goes right out of the window. I’m not saying repressed memories of traumatic experiences can’t exist, mind you, it’s just pretty clear that hypnotic regression is going to reveal more about the therapists prejudices and fears than about the patient’s actual experiences.

Yet the film never makes things quite that simple, “just” portraying what might have been a terrible injustice, but also harbouring all kinds of doubts about this idea too. The longer the film’s examination of the Friedman case continues, the more doubtful it seems there’s a way to trust any memory, not even one’s own, nor does there seem to be any road that leads to an actual truth. There’s only possibilities, suppositions and conflicting statements that can’t all be true even though nobody is lying.

At the same time, this is also a harrowing film about a family – imperfect in various ways like most of them are though not always quite this extreme – breaking down under pressure, of a group of people suffering the pain of distrust in ways I sometimes found too intimate to watch comfortably. Which is just a proper reaction to the film, for an audience shouldn’t feel comfortable with or pleasantly excited by this kind of tale. So it is fitting there’s no real resolution to find here apart from the hope that some of the remaining Friedmans may find ways to live with what they went through.

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