Caveh Zahedi’s one-of-a-kind movie—a funny, inventive, ground-shifting hybrid of essay film, mea culpa, and pathological real-life romantic farce—aims for truth by wrecking its own verisimilitude. A micro-epic autobiography of broken relationships and sexual hang-ups, encapsulating 20 years of the filmmaker’s life, I Am a Sex Addict kids not only its no-budget resources, but the oddity of reconstructing personal experience in cinematic terms.
By juxtaposing the admittedly fake, though, with the appallingly intimate, the writer-director-star sabotages the idea that dramatic re-creation is more accurate if it pretends to be real. Since his first completed feature, A Little Stiff (1991), the San Francisco filmmaker has smudged the lines between documentary and fiction, incorporating family, friends, and above all an obsessive, neurotic cinephile named Caveh Zahedi into his seriocomic constructs.
Even in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, Zahedi played himself: a gabby, spiritually yearning philosophe mulling André Bazin’s concept of the “holy moment.” That idea is central to Zahedi’s films: When movies record moments of unmitigated life—an action captured in a single shot, or an actor merging somehow with his offscreen self—they’re catching a glimpse of something created by God.
Granted, that’s a strong claim for a movie called I Am a Sex Addict, in which the hero ducks into confessional booths to whack off and compulsively gets himself sucked off until he looks like he’s going to yodel. Facing the camera in a tux, outside the hall where he’s getting married, Zahedi chooses to spill his guts about the erotic fixations that totaled his previous marriages. In interviews, he has said this much is true: He nursed a fixation with prostitutes and underwent sex- addiction counseling to help overcome it.
If I Am a Sex Addict had been played as straight melodrama, its sexual politics would have been risible. Spiraling from surreptitious dirty talk to rape fantasies and thwarted rough sex, Zahedi bravely lays open his libido; a macho poseur would have seen the role as a braggart’s holiday. Zahedi, on the other hand, toddles toward a prostitute’s rape-me beckoning like a dutiful child and widens his face in a half-dozen of the funniest, least vain male orgasms in movie history—the faces our wives and girlfriends thoughtfully try to ignore. At the height of passion, you expect him to bust into “The Sound of Music.”
But the movie’s guiding musical spirit is Jonathan Richman, whose impish, open-hearted love ballad sends Zahedi down the aisle with his new bride in the last scene. “We walk around like there are some holy moments, and there are all the other moments that are unholy,” Zahedi wondered in Waking Life, considering the beauty that flickers even in ennui. “But this moment is holy, right?” Even better than a blowjob.