Love (with Prostitutes) Is the Drug for this Filmmaker
By Mick LaSalle
San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 2006
Going in, a few things need to be said about "I Am a Sex Addict." There's no other film like it. It's embarrassingly frank and self-revealing, sometimes funny, sometimes creepy, sometimes both. It makes sex addiction look almost fun, at first, then ugly and dispiriting. And it just might be the truest film about addiction, of any kind, that has ever been made.
Written and directed by Caveh Zahedi, it stars Zahedi in the autobiographical story of his own sex addiction. A narrative film, it employs a number of documentary techniques, including Zahedi's running narration, on camera and in voice-over. At times, he interrupts a scene to address the audience directly, sometimes even to discuss production difficulties, and at select moments, he shows home movie footage of the real people who inspired the various characters.
These reminders of a reality outside the borders of the film frame don't take us out of the action but rather emphasize the significance of what we're seeing: a rare thing. Zahedi seems to be giving us his entire adult romantic history, from his early 20s through his 30s, and he's doing so with unsettling candor. This may be more candor than some will want, but the spectacle of a filmmaker really leading with his gut is as oddly refreshing as it is unusual.
Yet the distinct virtues of "I Am a Sex Addict" go beyond its honesty or novelty. With penetrating accuracy, the film captures the patterns of an addict's life, the rationalizations, resolutions and recidivism. Clearly, the challenge for Zahedi was to stay true to the reality of that life -- the endless spirals of repetitive activity -- while making the story of a revolving-door existence dramatically effective. He succeeds by concentrating as much on the women in his life as on his own story. "I Am a Sex Addict" is about how a man's peculiar addiction -- an obsession with having sex with prostitutes -- poisons his relationships with a series of worthy and intelligent women.
This prostitute fetish comes upon Zahedi with the suddenness of influenza. In 1983, walking down a street in Paris, the 23-year-old Zahedi sees a streetwalker who is a dead ringer for his wife, Caroline (played by real life porn actress Rebecca Lord). Thereupon the newly married and miserable Zahedi becomes fascinated with the idea of sex, not just with this prostitute but prostitutes in general. This fixation infects and dominates his fantasies, and he concludes that there's only one way to rid himself of it, by submitting to the desire. Thus begins a pattern that will soon become familiar: Every time is his last. Zahedi's intelligence provides him no protection. If anything, it makes him all the more skilled at devising reasons to give into temptation.
Not surprisingly, a romp with a strikingly beautiful Parisian prostitute (Olia Natasha) only inflames his obsession and dooms his shaky marriage. As the years pass, there are other relationships, with the proper Christa (Emily Morse) and the free-spirited Devin (Amanda Henderson). Zahedi gets respectable performances from all the actors, most of whom have never appeared before onscreen, but Henderson stands out in particular, infusing Devin with a personal philosophy and the sense of some underlying, rueful history.
"I Am a Sex Addict" is a comedy about something that isn't really all that funny, and Zahedi knows it. It's a sad story, a weird story and, in some ways, an unresolved story. From where did his obsession come? He has no pat answer, nor does he make his story conform to the conventional pattern of hitting bottom followed by redemption. The film stays medium cool, true and human. "I Am a Sex Addict" is a different kind of film, part memoir, part diary, part rant, held together by a curious singularity of vision.
-- Advisory: This film contains strong language, nudity and simulated sex.
E-mail Mick LaSalle at firstname.lastname@example.org.