CANNES, France - Pregnant with twins, Angelina Jolie says the story behind her latest drama hits close to home: the loss of a child.
Jolie stars in Clint Eastwood's "Changeling," the true story of a Los Angeles woman who endured horrors at the hands of corrupt police in her crusade to find out what happened to her son after he vanished in 1928.
"To lose a child: I can't imagine anything worse, especially not knowing the fate of that child," Jolie told reporters after a press screening. "Changeling" makes its formal Cannes Film Festival premiere later Tuesday night.
Due in theatres this fall, "Changeling" could be the latest Academy Awards entry for Eastwood, 77, who has reinvigorated himself with a rush of acclaimed films, including "Mystic River," "Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Million Dollar Baby," the latter earning the second best-picture and directing Oscars of Eastwood's career.
Jolie, 32, delivers a heartbreaking performance as Christine Collins, a single mom who works hard so she can take good care of her nine-year-old boy, Walter. The child disappears, and five months later, the distraught Christine is overjoyed when police tell her Walter has been found, alive and well.
But when the boy claiming to be Walter Collins is returned to her, Christine insists that he isn't her son.
She winds up in a nightmare battle with bureaucrats trying to cover up their own mistakes as thugs in the police department brand her an unfit mother who wants to shirk her responsibilities as a parent. Christine eventually is tossed into a psychiatric ward by police seeking to silence her.
"I was so astonished by the extent to which she suffered by asking one simple, clear question: What happened to my child," said J. Michael Straczynski, who researched Christine Collins' ordeal and wrote the screenplay for "Changeling." "She did all the heavy lifting. I just wrote it down."
Meantime, an unrelated case provides a clue to Walter's fate and that of other missing children as a detective tracks a serial killer suspected of abducting boys and savagely slaughtering them.
"Changeling" co-stars John Malkovich, who appeared in Eastwood's "In the Line of Fire," as a minister who comes to Christine's aid; and Amy Ryan, an Oscar nominee for last year's "Gone Baby Gone," as a prostitute who befriends her in the psych ward.
The film touches on themes familiar to Eastwood, who dealt with child abduction and abuse in "A Perfect World" and "Mystic River."
"Children in danger, of course, is about the highest form of drama you can have," Eastwood said. "Crimes against children are to me the most heinous. ... When one comes along quite as big as this one, you question humanity. It never ceases to surprise me how cruel humanity can be."
Jolie was in Cannes for both "Changeling" and her animated comedy "Kung Fu Panda," which premiered near the beginning of the festival last week. News broke then that Jolie and partner Brad Pitt, who already have four children, are expecting twins.
Though Jolie said she could imagine the pain and frustration if she were in Christine's situation, she had to look beyond her own children and position as a "very modern and very outspoken woman" to play the character.
Christine fought her battle at a time when women did not have the same power to speak their minds as today, Jolie said. So Jolie found inspiration in her own mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, who died in January 2007.
"To me, she's very much like my mother," Jolie said. "My mother was very passive in many ways and very, very sweet, but when it came to her children, she was a lion. But as a woman, very shy with her own voice. So in many ways, Christine reminded me of my mom, and it was a way to kind of revisit my mother after her passing and spend time with her."
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