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November 16, 2005

I Am a Sex Addict (2005)

I had the good luck of seeing Caveh Zahedi's poignant autobiographical documentary, I Am a Sex Addict, (Zahedi's official site, but also check out the caveh experiment) last night at the AFI Silver Theater. Darren has already written an incredible review-essay of the film, which describes many of the aspects of the film--including the play between documentary and fiction--that I found most rewarding. It's wroth noting, of course, that Zahedi's film was screened as a part of an AFI-sponsored film series on recovery from addiction, and that Zahedi frankly treats his own recovery from sexual addiction through autobiographical narrative.

As Darren points out, I Am a Sex Addict opens with Zahedi intrioducing himself to us as Caveh, on his wedding day (note: Thomas Didymus's comment on the re-shooting of that scene complicates the play between fiction and documentary even further). Throughout the film, Caveh directly addresses the camera, often breaking from character, to make a witty aside or to comment on what we're watching. As a result, Caveh disarms the viewer, creating sympathy for him as his sexual addiction deepens over the course of the film. This addiction primarily manifests itself in a desire to have sex with prostitutes, and as Darren's review notes, Zahedi's film portrays his increasingly ineffective strategies in dealing with this addiction (these straegies are scrawled one-by-one on a chalkboard, which I thought was a nice touch). Ultimately, Zahedi's two previous marraiges and other sexual relationships are harmed by his addiction . I'm finding myself wanting to repeat many of Darren's observations, but I think he's also right that Zahedi's care in establishing the right tone for this film was essential. It would have been easy for Zahedi to make his on-screen persona unlikable, particularly during one or two scenes where Caveh describes some specific fantasies to Greg Watkins (playing himself of course), his cinematographer and close fiend. But the gradual deepening of Caveh's addiction generally makes the film work.

As Darren notes, Zahedi constantly reminds the viewer that we are watching a film. He calls attention to the fact that one scene is filmed in San Francisco rather than Paris because Paris is too expensive and later films in Paris anyway. He points out the use of hair coloring to make himself look younger during certain scenes, and most importantly, we are introduced to several "behind-the-scenes" moments including one in which an actresses playing one of his girfriends expresses discomfort with doing a sex scene. I personally found myself drawn into these behind-the-scenes moments and initially wanted more of that. But after the film, when I joined Caveh and Sujewa while Sujewa interviewed Caveh, Caveh pointed out that many audience members felt they were being taken out of the film by those scenes, that our emotional identification with Caveh's story was disrupted, and I think he's right about that. But the scene with the actress is clearly necessary in that it complicates Caveh's necessarily graphic but often comical depictions of sex. This blurring takes place in other ways, too. When describing his earlier relationships, Caveh introduces his ex-girlfriend and ex-wives using home movie footage.

It's worth noting that the post-film conversation complicates my review of the film in other ways in that I feel as if I'm participating in the blurring of the lines between the real Caveh Zahedi and his on-screen persona in I Am a Sex Addict, and I'm not quite sure how that might affect my response to his film. I'm still processing what I've seen, but the film's deeply confessional nature is compelling, and in this case, it clearly serves a valuable instructive purpose in dealing so explicitly with a topic such as sexual addiction.

Posted by chuck at November 16, 2005 10:58 AM

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Yeah, Caveh actually being at the screening, and me having talked with him before the show, certainly affected how I related to his character in the film (but is it really a character?, this movie is more or less a documentary, well, it's a "character" but probably not too far removed from the real Caveh), the post-show discussion (both of them, inside the theater and out in the AFI Silver cafe) was excellent (my interview will feature a BONUS QUESTION asked by Chuck). The interview should be up on my blog early tom. AM.

BTW, it's Sujewa, no h :) Although it does look and sound interesting with an h, I am thinking about the sonic weapons in "Dune" here.

Posted by: The Sujewa at November 16, 2005 4:10 PM

Oops, sorry about the mispelling. I must have been thinking about Caveh's name when I was typing yours. I'll fix that ASAP. I do think the on-screen Caveh is a character of sorts, though not an entirely fictional one, of course. In fact, in my review, I considered referring to the on-screen character as "Caveh" and teh filmmaker as "Zahedi" in order to distinguish between the two roles.

Posted by: Chuck at November 16, 2005 4:15 PM

The question about Caveh's "character" becomes even more complicated if you watch either of the films he made with Greg Watkins, A Little Stiff and A Sign from God. In both, Zahedi plays "Caveh," but in the latter especially it's a clearly fictionalized version of him. He's still a struggling filmmaker who lives in San Francisco and who is trying to raise financing for a film about his sex addiction, but he has a fictional girlfriend and participates in a neatly-plotted narrative.

I'm glad you were able to catch the screening, Chuck, and I look forward to reading that interview.

Posted by: Darren at November 17, 2005 2:05 PM

The interview is up on Sujewa's blog. I only asked a couple of questions, one of which was included in the final interview.

Posted by: Chuck at November 17, 2005 2:15 PM

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