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Martin Südderman on Nick Cassavetes' Unhook the Stars.

"There are a lot of directors out there who are influenced by my father, but no director will be more influenced by his style than I am," says Nick Cassavetes, whose first feature, Unhook the Stars, premieres at the Toronto Film Festival this year.

A surprisingly unassuming film, which is actually quite far away from the sturm and drang of films like A Woman Under the Influence, Unhook the Stars features Cassavetes' mother Gena Rowlands as a woman lost in the emptiness of the large suburban home she kept after her husband died and kids grew up. When a neighbor played by Marisa Tomei suddenly needs help taking care of her young son, Rowlands becomes friends with the boy. It's a friendship conveyed in a remarkably unsentimental way. In fact, in key scenes Cassavetes' direction stubbornly refuses to give the viewer the hugs and kisses usually found in movies about estranged parents and children.

Unhook the Stars is structured like a piece of short fiction; Rowland's character is as quiet and mysterious at the film's odd ending as she is in the beginning. The film opens with Rowlands delivering papers in the early hours on a quiet suburban street - an image which instantly establishes a melancholic tone while also making a subtle statement about older people in the American economy. The scene, and the grain and look of Phedon Papamichael, Jr.'s cinematography, also recall films by Hal Ashby and Bob Rafaelson.

"The reason why the film feels like a '70s movie is that there's a lot of long lens (cinematography) in it. A long lens smashes the perspective and that was very fashionable back then."

Cassavetes, whose name has graced the video boxes of a number of erotic thrillers, welcomed the chance to, with French money provided by Hachette, break into directing with a film that's "not about commerce." Indeed, the film's star cast of scene chewers - including Gerard Depardieu as a lonely teamster and Moira Kelly as Rowlands' daughter - is the only commercial concession in this small but intelligent film debut.


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