CANNES, France (Reuters) - Angelina Jolie takes on one of her most challenging roles to date in a film about Mariane Pearl, wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in 2002.
“A Mighty Heart” premiered in Cannes on Monday, and is one of the most talked about films at the festival this year even though it is outside the main competition.
The movie unites Jolie with her partner Brad Pitt, who is a producer, and is directed by Britain’s Michael Winterbottom, who has made films including “The Road to Guantanamo” and “9 Songs”.
It is based on Mariane’s book “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Daniel Pearl”, which recounts the events leading up to and following Daniel’s death when she was around six months pregnant.
The film takes the viewer into the teeming streets of Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi, where Daniel was abducted, although scenes involving Jolie were shot in India.
It paints a picture of chaos and confusion as Mariane, Pakistani intelligence, U.S. consulate officials and Daniel’s newspaper colleagues seek unsuccessfully to track him down via e-mail and mobile phone trails and old-fashioned police work.
They are up against not only a ruthless and professional group of abductors, but also prejudices in Pakistani society that led some to speculate that Daniel worked for U.S. or Israeli intelligence and that India was behind the kidnap.
Jolie said she was nervous about getting the part of Mariane right, and that the film had a message beyond the gripping narrative and gut-wrenching finale.
“For me so much of why this film is important today was because I highly doubt there is anybody in this room who has more reason to hold hate inside herself than Mariane, and she doesn‘t,” Jolie told a news conference.
“She is a very compassionate, thoughtful person who looks to dialogue to change things, to make things better. That is, I think, a lesson to all of us.”
Jolie, 31, said being a young mother helped her understand what Mariane had gone through.
“Many people know this story and they forget that Mariane was five and a half months pregnant at the time,” Jolie said.
“I remember being six months pregnant and thinking, ‘I can’t imagine at this time not having the father with me’,” she added, referring to Pitt, who was sitting close to her.
“As a mother it just made me so much more connected to her and also knowing that carrying that life inside, that little boy that’s half Danny, that is so amazing.”
The Pearls’ child Adam was born after Daniel’s death.
There was a moment of raw emotion in the press conference when reporter Chris Burns asked Mariane if she forgave him for asking her live on television shortly after Daniel’s death whether she had seen the video of his murder.
Stony faced, she pointedly avoided the word “forgive”, saying only: “I accept your apologies.”
Early critical reaction to “A Mighty Heart” has been positive, with trade magazine Variety calling Jolie’s performance “a subdued, carefully considered portrait of a woman caught between premature grief and persistent hope”.
Jolie said “A Mighty Heart” did not signal a shift away from comic or action roles for which she is best known, and that she would try to combine serious and light cinema.
Jolie and Pitt, known collectively in Hollywood as “Brangelina”, appeared together on the red carpet at the official evening screening. She wore a knee-length black dress and he wore traditional tuxedo and bow tie.
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