Weeks before winning the 1998 Miss World pageant, Israeli teen Linor Abargil was held captive and raped by her travel agent while heading home from an Italian modeling assignment. Ten years later, she resolved to confront her past and reach out to other rape survivors. In “Brave Miss World,” made over the course of five years, director Cecilia Peck shows her striking subject encouraging women around the world to speak out. Although this uplifting documentary would benefit from a clearer focus and more precise assembly, it has considerable appeal for the Jewish-interest community, as well as those concerned with rampant sexual violence.
Already a well-traveled fest item, the pic opens Nov. 15 at the Laemmle Theaters in LA for a weeklong award-qualifying run. U.S. sales agent Cinetic is negotiating broadcast offers and in talks with a theatrical distributor for a wider release in 2014.
In her second solo helming outing after “Justice for All,” producer-helmer Peck (the daughter of Gregory) once again proves her social-justice bona fides. Blessed with a subject who is as articulate and forthcoming as she is beautiful, Peck follows Abargil as she speaks with teens in South Africa, visits campuses in the U.S. and returns to Italy for the first time since her attack. Her courage in speaking out about her experience and refusing to blame herself is not only inspiring, but also raises public awareness about the ever-present epidemic of sexual violence while promoting a healing experience for others.
While Abargil’s progression from rape victim to empowered activist/attorney is ostensibly the main focus, Peck blunts the film’s overall impact by including too many other women who recount, in part, their own stories of violation. Sure, shattering the silence that shrouds rape is what Abargil aims to do, but the editing choices too frequently lead to digressions that distract from Abargil’s story.
Some testimony from violated women, such as that of the South African activist Alison Botha and the youthful rape survivors in Soweto, is so horrifying and compelling that it deserves a separate film. Less engrossing is the video montage of women who wrote to Abargil’s website (Linor Speaks Out), and who, in rapid succession, tell portions of their stories. The film also detours to Hollywood, where Abargil sits with stars Joan Collins and Fran Drescher as they recall their experiences of sexual assault.
The extensive travel and advocacy are hard on Abargil, who must also contend with the possibility of her assailant being granted parole. Over the course of the production, as she attends and graduates from law school, and also becomes more religiously observant. She joins an Orthodox sect that requires her to cover her hair, eschew revealing clothes and refrain from physical contact with men outside her own family. It would have been interesting to hear her talk more about this new way of life, particularly in contrast to her past career as a model, beauty queen and actress, and how she thinks it relates to her past trauma.
Producer Motty Reif, a family friend of Abargil’s since she was 16, serves as an occasional commentator. There is also ample beauty-pageant footage, as well as television interviews with Abargil over the years. Tech credits are uneven, as one would expect of from long-in-the-making production with multiple lensers and sound technicians.