I Am a Sex Addict

Runs Fri., Jan. 6–Thurs., Jan. 12, at Northwest Film Forum

Score one point for truth in labeling. Professional confessionalist filmmaker Caveh Zahedi builds this autobiographical account out of home movies, snapshots, cartoons, Hollywood film clips, and re-enactments, all woven together by his narration, like Spalding Gray, spoken directly to the lens. He's funny at first, in a low-key nebbishy intellectual way, describing how in his '70s radical view, "monogamy was a form of private property." So why'd this idealist—who also professes to believe in true love—get married in the '80s? His first wife, a Frenchwoman, was about to overstay her visa. They end up living in France with a terrible sex life, and soon Zahedi is lusting after Parisian streetwalkers—one of whom is played by the same actress portraying his wife. In a triple level of reflexivity, Zahedi informs us that Rebecca Lord is actually a real French porn actress (Laura Crotch, Tomb Raider), which he claims he didn't know when casting her. Soon we're in the position of his second wife and subsequent girlfriends: liking this seemingly trustworthy guy who keeps telling us not to trust him.

Zahedi doesn't present himself as a sex god—he has his bald spot spray-painted for the '80s sequences—and he completely lacks the sort of slimy self-justifications one finds in certain James Toback and Woody Allen movies. He keeps looping back to scrutinize his life and erotic history. You know his every refrain of "Just let me get it out of my system" means he's only going to get more tangled up in hookers, guilt, and bad relationships. "I don't want there to be any secrets between us," he says of his sexual compulsions and candor, which ought to send any sane woman running for the hills. He appears to recognize that honesty is his best and worst quality as a man.

And as a filmmaker. That artlessness extends beyond Addict's no-frills budget. Intimate as a diary, the movie begins to repeat itself like one once we get beyond Zahedi's first marriage. It's the same dynamic, the same complaint, applied to a series of new women. Animations by Bob Sabiston (Waking Life) help to an extent, but Addict becomes ever more the hermetic head trip. Zahedi never reaches Gray's arch perspective (nor Eric Bogosian's by-the-balls immediacy). When he speaks of his street whores providing "a high-minded experience in self-transcendence," he seems to mean it as earnestly as his peyote trip in Austin, Texas.

Still, Zahedi seems too gentle to be a complete jerk. His exercise in self-shaming ends in 1991 and on an optimistic note. Of course, he confronted his addiction just as the conduit to untold new cybercompulsions was being born. If Addict has anything to teach female viewers about their boyfriends, it's to check their Internet browser cookies before agreeing to marry. Every night on tens of thousands of computers, I suspect, the sequel, I Am a Sex Addict, Part II, is being written. (NR)

Caveh Zahedi will appear at Northwest Film Forum for a conversation with Warren Etheredge following the 7 p.m. screening, Fri., Jan. 6.

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