An­gelina Jolie re­turns to di­rec­tor’s chair for per­sonal film

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - LIFESTYLES - BY CARA BUCK­LEY

LOS ANGELES — An­gelina Jolie was sit­ting bare­foot on the porch of her lus­cious new home, ex­plain­ing why she wants to save the world, when duty called. Her youngest son, Knox, 9, poked his lit­tle blond head around the screen door.

“Shiloh needs you,” the boy said qui­etly, re­fer­ring to his mid­dle sis­ter, who is 11.

“Shi?” Jolie called, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing with a whoosh of her black caf­tan. Ten min­utes later, she was back. Shiloh’s beloved bearded dragon, Vlad, had fallen ill and was now, to Shiloh’s dis­tress, con­va­lesc­ing at the vet’s. “That will be the rest of my day,” Jolie said, set­tling into a cush­ioned pa­tio chair, “learn­ing all about the health is­sues of the bearded dragon.”

Jolie went on to lament the im­bal­ance of a world where Cal­i­for nian pets get cushy care while mil­lions of people the world over lack ac­cess to proper med­i­cal treat­ment. It went un­men­tioned that she was say­ing this from her $25 mil­lion two-acre hill­top es­tate, in a gated pocket of the Los Feliz neigh­bor­hood, a home she bought for her­self and her six chil­dren in the spring, after her split from Brad Pitt.

Per­haps more than any other celebrity, Jolie, 42, has kept her­self firmly planted in two vastly dif­fer­ent worlds. She’s both the glam­orous A-lis­ter whose ev­ery move is tracked in head­lines (“Angie and the kids left Tar­get be­cause it didn’t serve hot dogs,” read one re­cent news flash), and the hu­man­i­tar­ian do-gooder who has made more than 60 trips to the field as part of her United Na­tions work. Ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tions ac­count for her elu­sive al­lure. Jolie has been en­dur­ingly hard to peg, a woman who can­not eas­ily be lumped into a sin­gle cat­e­gory be­cause she oc­cu­pies many at once.

She is a peer­less glama­zon as well as the women’s health ad­vo­cate who told the world about her pre­ven­tive dou­ble mas­tec­tomy. She has a metic­u­lously man­aged pub­lic pro­file yet pro­fesses not to care what oth­ers think. She re­mains near the pin­na­cle of celebrity’ s cruel pyra­mid, even though her re­cent movies only made money when she was cam­ou­flaged (“Malef­i­cent,” “Kung Fu Panda”). She is ob­sessed over — if, in the United States at least, not ex­actly beloved — and fixed in the cul­tural fir­ma­ment as Amer­ica’s vixen de­spite hav­ing a half-dozen strong brood.

And even though the pub­lic ap­petite for sala­cious de­tails of her per­sonal life has long eclipsed in­ter­est in the films she has di­rected, Jolie doggedly brings tough, ob­scure sto­ries to the screen. Three of the four movies she has made are set in wartime, in­clud­ing her lat­est, “First They Killed My Fa­ther,” based on the true story of Loung Ung, who as a young girl sur­vived the Cam­bo­dian geno­cide and is now one of Jolie’s close friends.

While Jolie’s ear­lier movies gar­nered tepid re­views, sev­eral crit­ics have anointed “First They Killed My Fa­ther” her best yet. It is told en­tirely from the lit­tle girl’s point of view, in Kh­mer, and re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion at the Tel­luride Film Fes­ti­val, where it had its pre­miere. Net­flix was to be­gin stream­ing it Fri­day.

Jolie said she could not have made the movie had she not first di­rected “In the Land of Blood and Honey” (2011) about the Bos­nian war, and “Un­bro­ken” (2014), based on the true story of an Amer­i­can G.I. taken prisoner in World War II. (She and Pitt starred to­gether as a mar­ried cou­ple locked in a dif­fer­ent kind of con­flict in her 2015 drama, “By the Sea”).

“It wasn’t a con­scious plan of, I was go­ing to make war films, it’s just what I was drawn to,” she said.

Jolie has an in­deli­ble con­nec­tion to Cam­bo­dia, not least be­cause it com­pletely re­ordered her life. Be­fore first vis­it­ing in 2000 to shoot “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” she had been a Hol­ly­wood wild child, a rav­ish­ing Goth weirdo who, at the Os­cars that year dressed like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and locked lips with her brother. She also got pub­licly hot and heavy with her sec­ond hus­band, Billy Bob Thorn­ton, and wore a locket with droplets of his blood.

The grace and hu­mil­ity she saw in the Cam­bo­dian people, along with the last­ing ef­fects of the geno­cide, threw Hol­ly­wood life into un­flat­ter­ing re­lief.

“Once you get ex­posed to what’s re­ally hap­pen­ing in the world, and other people’s re­al­i­ties, you just can’t ever not know, and you can’t ever wake up and pre­tend it’s not hap­pen­ing ,” she said ,“Your en­tire life shifts.”

She adopted Mad­dox, now 16, from an or­phan age, di­vorced Thorn­ton, and threw her­self into hu­man­i­tar­ian and en­vi­ron­men­tal work, find­ing last­ing in­spi­ra­tion in wartime sur­vivors and aid work­ers.

“The real will to sur­vive, and the strength of the hu­man spirit, and the love of the hu­man fam­ily be­comes so present, and that’s how we should all be liv­ing,” Jolie said. “When you’re around it, it’s quite con­ta­gious, and you know to learn from it.”

Al­though it was still Au­gust, the chil­dren — Mad­dox, Pax, 13; Za­hara, 12; Shiloh, Knox and his twin, Vivi­enne — had al­ready be­gun home school. They would be ac­com­pa­ny­ing her to the Tel­luride and Toronto film fes­ti­vals — Mad­dox has an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer credit on the film — and were mak­ing up for lost les­son time, work­ing with tu­tors in var­i­ous cor­ners of the house, learn­ing, among other things, Ara­bic, sign lan­guage and physics.

I asked Jolie if she ever felt like the coach of a small team, and she replied that more of­ten she felt part of a fra­ter­nity.

“They re­ally help me so much. We’re re­ally such a unit,” she said. “They’re the best friends I’ve ever had. No­body in my life has ever stood by me more.”

That last sen­tence hung in the air, per­haps a sub­tle al­lu­sion to, or in­dict­ment of, Pitt, who adopted Mad­dox, Pax and Za­hara, and is the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther of Shiloh, Knox and Vivi­enne. The dis­so­lu­tion of their 12-year ro­man­tic part­ner­ship came last September, after an in­ci­dent aboard a pri­vate jet — pur­port­edly in­volv­ing Pitt and Mad­dox — prompted her to file for di­vorce.

Shor tly after­ward, Jolie and the kids moved out of Pitt’s es­tate, liv­ing in a rental for nine months as she strug­gled with the de­ci­sion about whether to buy a new home.

“It took me a few months to re­al­ize that I was re­ally go­ing to have to do it. That there was go­ing to have to be an­other base re­gard­less of ev­ery­thing,” she said, her voice fall­ing quiet and low, as it would each time the sub­ject of the split arose. “T hat there was go­ing to have to be a home. An­other home.”

RYAN PFLUGER / THE NEW YORK TIMES

An­gelina Jolie poses at the Four Sea­sons in Los Angeles. The ac­tress-di­rec­tor sug­gests her new film, set against the back­drop of the Cam­bo­dian geno­cide, af­fected her view of her fam­ily and re­la­tion­ship with Brad Pitt. “I never ex­pect to be the one that ever ybody un­der­stands or likes,” Jolie says. “And that’s O.K., be­cause I know who I am, and the kids know who I am.”

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