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Brave Miss World – UK Jewish Film Festival
November 22, 2014
In her new documentary Brave Miss World, director Cecilia Peck explores the very sensitive issue of rape, focusing in particular on the harrowing yet inspirational story of former Miss World, Linor Abargil. Peck uses the terrible experience of this rather high profile victim as the springboard for a larger exploration of the issues surrounding rape worldwide.
For those unfamiliar with her story, Linor Abargil was the victim of a horrific sexual attack in Milan just six weeks before being crowned Miss World 1998. Throughout the film we follow this young woman as she struggles to deal with what happened in her past, the ways that affects her present, and how she will continue to try and move towards her future. This is, sadly, the story of not just one woman, but of countless other individuals worldwide. We are shown this as Abargil travels across the globe from Israel to South Africa, Italy, the United States and beyond. As she goes along she hears the stories of many who have suffered fates similar to hers and even, in some cases, far worse.
The film does a very good job at making its point regarding the countless global issues surrounding rape. It is an almost impossibly large, complex and terrible topic to explore, and so by keeping firmly focused on individuals and their stories, Peck ensures that the audience comes face-to-face with the realities of this kind of crimes. All too often when we hear about rape in reports and on the news it becomes easy for real individuals to be described and thought of as statistics. In conducting interviews with real individual victims, some well-known but mostly everyday men and women on the street, we come to understand on a fundamental level how the justice system can fail victims, how victims are stigmatised, how people can be left emotionally scarred for life, and many other issues.
Inevitably though, in tackling such a thorny subject, Brave Miss World suffers from some controversial moments. In fact by focusing in on the individual story of Abargil, the film encounters one of its greatest weaknesses as well as some of its greatest strengths. Yes, it means we get to see how rape really affects people every day, but it also means we largely see only one person’s opinion and method of coping. As she travels, Abargil attempts to get victims to speak out about their ordeals, as she sees that is the only way the world and individuals can truly deal with the problem. One can certainly see her point of view but, as a crisis centre worker points out during the film, victims are already blamed far too much as it is, without being made to also feel guilty when they do not feel safe or confident enough to speak out. Despite this being pointed out, Abargil seems determined to continue down this single, somewhat narrow-minded, path.
In addition, as the film progresses, we see Abargil becoming more and more religious, reverting to increasingly Orthodox Judaism as a means to help her cope with her past. There is of course nothing wrong with this if it works for her, but Abargil seems a little unacquainted to the notion that religion and faith might not be a method that works for everyone. There are even moments where she seems to be going so far as to suggest that people cannot truly get over rape until they have accepted that there is some power larger than themselves watching over and helping them. Again, whilst one can certainly be sympathetic with her views given what has happened to her, the viewer is left feeling increasingly disenfranchised towards the former beauty queen. The further into the film we go, the more extreme and singular her views on the subject seem to become.
This could serve to undo a large amount of the good message portrayed in Brave Miss World through its individual stories, but fortunately as the film goes on, Peck also begins to increasingly explore the views of those around Abargil, such as her mother and fiancée. This has two benefits; firstly we are lent sympathy towards Abargil’s evolving beliefs as we see the understanding that is given to her by her loved ones. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we see how rape can affect not only the victims, but also those close to them. Peck increases the scope of people that her film looks at as it progresses, and in doing so, provides multiple ways of looking at the many issues faced when exploring such a complex subject as rape. There are even times when we are told about the behaviour of the attackers, which come across as surprising.
Overall, Brave Miss World does a good job at exploring a very difficult subject matter. Peck gives the viewers a real understanding of how rape can affect anyone, anywhere and in any number of ways, despite being sometimes a little too narrow in the exploration of coping mechanisms when it comes to victims of such horrific, life-altering crimes.
Brave Miss World has screened at the UK Jewish Film Festival and is now available on Netflix.