Writer-director Nick Cassavetes unveiled his new movie "Yellow" at the Toronto Film Festival this weekend and found himself defending the main character's incestuous love affair with her own brother.
"Yellow" stars Cassavetes' ex-wife, Heather Wahlquist, as Mary, a beautiful woman addicted to pain pills. She searches for a stable place back home in Oklahoma after being expelled from her teaching job in L.A. for having broom closet sex on parent night. (Wahlquist, who co-wrote the film is from Oklahoma. Melanie Griffith plays her mother, and Sienna Miller is her hysterical sister.)
Along the way she stops to see her brother in prison with whom she has had a love affair. The scene between them is tender and affecting and signals no judgment of the relationship.
Cassavetes – a maverick filmmaker whose parents are the legendary actress Gena Rowlands and actor-director John Cassavetes -- confessed he could not condemn it.
"I have no experience with incest," he told TheWrap in an interview on Sunday. "We started thinking about that. We had heard a few stories where brothers and sisters were completely, absolutely in love with one another. You know what? This whole movie is about judgment, and lack of it, and doing what you want.
"Who gives a shit if people judge you?" he continued. "I'm not saying this is an absolute but in a way, if you're not having kids – who gives a damn? Love who you want. Isn't that what we say? Gay marriage – love who you want? If it's your brother or sister it's super-weird, but if you look at it, you're not hurting anybody except every single person who freaks out because you're in love with one another."
That view may be controversial, but Cassavetes (right) is known as an independent, growing up as cinematic royalty while often working outside the Hollywood system. His previous films include "John Q," "The Notebook" and "Alpha Dog."
"Yellow," which does not yet have a U.S. distributor, was made over the last three years, as the director kept running out of money. Cassavetes shut down the film after one financier cut and run after just five days, then had to shut it down before finishing it a year later when cash was short again.
A semi-professional gambler, he made the rest of the production budget at the casino.
With "Yellow," Cassavetes wanted to portray an archetype of a certain sort of modern woman who is, in his words, both "a rock star" and "a mess."
"We wanted an exaggerated version of a girl who came from a place where different things are acceptable," he said. "We wanted her to have a reason why she couldn't feel. She's a walking dead."
He added: "In a certain respect I feel like I'm this lizard, sapped of all my feelings… Something had to happen to this character that was traumatic and beautiful and made her a pariah. She was traveling this world on a solitary journey.
"She's a wipeout of a mess. But I hope people root for this character, damaged or not."