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MOVIE REVIEW

Narcissist turns camera on himself

Caveh Zahedi reveals more about himself than is warranted with `I Am a Sex Addict.'

April 28, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

"I Am a Sex Addict," Caveh Zahedi's filmed memoir of dysfunction, chronicles his romantic trials and tribulations from the age of 24 to his third wedding at the age of 43, having finally managed to kick his addiction to prostitutes. Alternately addressing the camera and flashing back to scenes from his previous life, both dramatized and documentary, Zahedi tries to construct a narrative from his epic bad behavior, presumably for the purpose of shedding light on something. What this is remains mysterious after a single viewing, but not so mysterious as to inspire a second.

Skinny, nervy and perennially dressed like a waiter in black pants, white shirt and a vest, Zahedi is a familiar character-- neurotic and ingratiating, and given to confusing the candid revelation and mortifying reenactment of every sordid detail of his pathology with an act of honest self-examination. Taking up almost as much screen time as Zahedi is the black rectangle best known for obscuring the eyes of those unfortunate enough to be caught on camera in a Glamour magazine "don't." Here, the rectangle is called upon to conceal points further south, though there are those who will wish another rectangle had been employed to block out the filmmaker's ecstatic facial contortions, and earplugs provided to block out the howling.

The film begins with Zahedi standing in front of a church, preparing for wedding No. 3. Anxiously addressing the camera, he expresses his desire for this relationship to work out, and his belief that it will. Then he takes us back to the beginning -- an encounter with a Parisian prostitute while in the throes of unhappy marriage No. 1. At first, all he has are questions: How much? And can oral sex be expected? The prostitutes oblige him with answers to his inquiries, even as the questioning becomes compulsive and non-remunerative. It's their job, to some extent, to offer patient nonjudgment. But after a while, it's hard not to think of the streetwalkers of Paris as a particularly saintly bunch.

Like many contemporary artists of the confessional school, Zahedi has thoroughly internalized the culture of pop psychology, and as the addiction spirals out of control, destroying his relationships, he learns to rationalize his behavior in psychological terms. Because his problem has to do with "shame," he becomes obsessed with the idea that if his wives and girlfriends could only see him in the act of having sex with a prostitute, he might be cured. Never in the course of his many "serious" relationships, though, do his partners' sexual needs or desires intrude on his singularly narcissistic reality. At one point, one of his girlfriends becomes involved with another man. Zahedi acknowledges his feelings of jealousy, but empathy is beyond his ken. Instead, he eventually resolves to "get a better girlfriend." That would be an alcoholic with zero self-esteem.

Zahedi's behavior is destructive enough to inspire a suicide attempt by one wife and a series of destructive drunken benders in a later girlfriend. But Zahedi insists on keeping things light -- and himself likable -- and the only way to do that is to regard these eruptions of female despair with baffled, impish detachment. It probably goes against current trends in addiction treatment to suggest that shame was appropriate, not a demon to be exorcised at the expense of his partners' mental well-being. But Zahedi, who is willing to connect the dots between his actions and their consequences, is unwilling to explore the deeper causes of his urges. Instead, he's all about the mechanics: To satisfy the need is to fuel the need. Well, alrighty. The logic is a closed loop, but the point is elusive.

*

`I Am a Sex Addict'

MPAA rating: Unrated. Extensive nudity, graphic sex scenes, graphic descriptions of sex acts.

An IFC Films release. Writer-director Caveh Zahedi. Producers Greg Watkins, Caveh Zahedi. Director of photography Greg Watkins. Editors Thomas Logoreci, Caveh Zahedi. Music Hilary Soldati. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500, and the Regency Academy Cinemas, 1003 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 229-9400.

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