Turning personal obsession into deadpan comedy may seem like a description of Woody Allen’s work, but Caveh Zahedi, the actor-director-subject of “I Am a Sex Addict,” creates his own sub-genre of screen narcissism. Present film tracing his relationship problems hits its stride from the opening scenes and continues hilariously for a while, before declining into more of same. Its undeniable appeal lies in shocking frankness shackled to irony, a combo that should attract indie lovers with psychoanalytic leanings and droll senses of humor. With clever marketing, the effort could catch on in limited release abroad.
Viewers may be excused for confounding Zahedi the filmmaker with Caveh the character around whom the film revolves. The director (“A Little Stiff,” “I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore”), has stated the film is entirely autobiographical, and to prove it, he inserts videos of his real exes, played by actresses in the film. Staged as an on-camera confessional, it is framed by Caveh as a 45-year-old about to get married for the third time. As he reviews his past mistakes with women, he blames himself for only one thing: his obsession with sex. In reality, one suspects his problems go quite a bit further. An absurd confusion of ideas tumbles out in the film’s dizzy storyline and jumpy style, but that’s just where the fun lies.
Back in his hippie twenties, Caveh gives up his childhood sweetheart (still the love of his life) to marry a French beauty in need of a green card. Their relationship actually seems to be working out, until they move to Paris and he is knocked senseless by the streetwalkers. Caveh being a feminist and all, he insists on telling his wife, who foolishly sets oral sex as the limit she will tolerate. When he goes beyond it, they’re through.
Film retells practically the same story with a nice girlfriend he finds at UCLA film school. Unable to kick his lust for hookers (now the L.A. car-sex variety), he loses g.f., too, before finally finding his ideal woman: the alcoholic, live-and-let-live Christa. She seems not to care about his prostitute fantasies — and even encourages him — but his habits take their toll, and when he spends the night away from their hotel at the Pesaro Film Festival, it’s over. According to Caveh, he is finally cured when he begins attending regular meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous, leading to his third marriage and pic’s happy ending.
Self-deprecating and self-justifying, Zahedi projects himself as a kind of naive, mischievous elf overwhelmed by female charms, somewhat like the Roberto Benigni persona. It’s not necessary to identify with him to enjoy his antics. Despite pic’s apparent frivolity, some hard work and clever choices have gone into the pop, staccato filming and editing, slyly underlined by Hilary Soldati’s music. Zahedi and cameraman/co-producer Greg Watkins show they know how to make a virtue of shoestring necessity, for instance, substituting California alleyways for Paris