Might as Well Face It
Caveh Zahedi on 'I Am a Sex Addict'
You may already know filmmaker Caveh Zahedi from Richard Linklater's Waking Life, in which he discusses Andre Bazin's theory of the "holy moment" during the inspired cloud transformation sequence. After Zahedi's new film, I Am a Sex Addict, opens this weekend, you will know him much more intimately. Through a series of narrated re-enactments, this autobiographical documentary explores the director's struggle to overcome a sex addiction (fueled by a prostitute fetish) that destroyed his first marriage and several relationships. It is by turns provocative, heart-wrenching, and inspiring, and it's every bit as frank and intensely personal as the title suggests. It's also quite funny. While the material carries a risk of alienating viewers, Zahedi details his dark journey with sly, detached wit that prevents the film from descending to the level of a knee-jerk confessional.
Despite the playful tone, Zahedi makes no apologies for the film's honesty and never shies away from disturbing material. In particular, the numerous sex scenes are a far cry from the glossy erotica that graces most Hollywood films. Often unfolding in single shots with flat lighting, the scenes are far more explicit than the norm, yet stress the humor and embarrassment of the act over its glamour.
"I think in a lot of Hollywood films, the titillating sex scenes are there to help create a fantasy," Zahedi says. "This fantasy is part of the problem the film addresses. I wanted to be honest about sex: It's often awkward and comical, and not particularly graceful."
Not only is Zahedi honest about sex in the film, he's also candid about his flaws, his mistakes, and, in several sequences, about the artifice inherent to filmmaking. At one point, he explains that there's supposed to be a scene of his ex-girlfriend performing oral sex but that the actress playing her refused. He then cuts to behind-the-scenes footage that shows him pleading with the reluctant performer.
It adds up to a film that deals with the nature of honesty on a number of different levels. However, Zahedi says that he feels it's impossible to label anything as completely truthful.
"I think honesty is more or less an asymptote," he says. "There is no such thing as absolute honesty or dishonesty, but there is a spectrum where we recognize when something is more or less honest than we're used to. With all of my films, I try to push toward that higher honesty quotient."
Interestingly, Zahedi's push toward honesty has proved offensive to some critics. While many have embraced it, Zahedi says that reviewers who dislike the film tend to dismiss it as narcissistic or self-indulgent. In one recent review that Zahedi responds to on his blog, a critic asks, "Is this guy whining or bragging?"
"Maybe the critics are so dishonest in their personal lives that they are threatened by somebody being honest about theirs," he muses. "Or maybe some of these people have their own sexual issues that they feel shame about."
Perhaps the most unfounded accusation leveled at Zahedi is that of self-indulgence. The film explores the role of honesty between couples with such poignancy that it will likely resonate with anyone who's ever been in a relationship. Beyond this aspect, Zahedi said he wrote the script in hopes of reaching out to the numerous sex addicts who have not yet found help. The director overcame his own addiction, not by making the film, but by attending sex addicts anonymous meetings, which served as the initial inspiration for the script.
"I was very moved and healed by hearing other people talk about their addictions, and I realized this is something you never hear in society," Zahedi says. "I felt that if I could do for others what these meetings did for me, it would be a very positive thing for other sex addicts, especially. I wish I had seen a movie like this when I was in the throes of it."
AFS@Dobie presents I Am a Sex Addict with Caveh Zahedi in attendance on Friday and Saturday nights, June 23-24. For a review and show times, see Film Listings.