Caveh Zahedi is a filmmaker who does not inspire indifference: either you love his intensely personal self-exploratory films (“A Little Stiff,” “I Don’t Hate Las Vegas Anymore”) or you are turned off by his acute self-focus. His new film, the 27-minute “I Was Possessed by God,” will not bridge the gap between Zahedi’s fans and critics…but it certainly signals a dangerous new direction in the artist’s work and life.
“I Was Possessed by God” is a documentary in which Zahedi attempts to recreate a 1993 happening when he ingested five grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms and claimed to channel God. This recreation, shot in 1998, offers the stoned Zahedi as he writhes and convulses for the camera while lying in bed, babbling and grimacing with insane melodramatic flair. He claims that God speaks through him, although his snarling behavior suggests Mr. Hyde rather than the Holy Spirit, and he uses his camera time to sing the praises of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Jean-Luc Godard, David Byrne, David Letterman and Bud Cort (it seems Zahedi’s God has hipster tastes). Within a half-hour, Zahedi soars to a dizzy narcotic high and then abruptly comes crashing down in a spill of endless words and a stunning deflation of physical energy. “I Was Possessed by God” is not, by any stretch, a pleasant film to watch and it is merciful that Zahedi had the good sense to edit his trip into a short subject rather than capture it as a full-length feature.
Zahedi under the influence is too similar to Zahedi sober: overly verbose, heavily neurotic, highly emotional and never quite getting to the point of his purpose. For those (like me) who admire the filmmaker for his daring to take chances at the risk of looking ridiculous, and for those who just think he is ridiculous, “I Was Possessed by God” supplies plenty of ammunition to keep both sides in a critical crossfire. There is one point which both sides will agree upon: this reckless and hypnotic experiment is unlike any recent film.
And special kudos are deserved for World Artists, the small distributor which has brought Zahedi’s earlier films to the public and is taking a chance on this unique little production. This film is certainly different and the entertainment industry is a better place when creative forces like World Artists are willing to jettison the predictable and dare to present something totally out of the ordinary like “I Was Possessed by God.”