" I’d rather you were sleeping together under my roof "
— Kris Kristofferson, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries

MRQE Top Critic

Ballroom

An exercise in atmosphere, with some really inspired surrealism —John Adams (DVD review...)

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I agree with Brave Miss World that rape should be taken much more seriously than it is. Victims should not have to fear speaking up. Prosecution — both here in America and around the world — should be more severe and more successful.

That said, not every documentary on the subject of rape will be as good as every other documentary. And as admirable as the subject of Brave Miss World is, the documentary focuses too much on Miss World and not enough on her work.

What the Emcees Did Not Know

Linor travels the world listening to survivors
Linor travels the world listening to survivors

Linor Abargil won two beauty pageants in 1998: first Miss Israel, then Miss World. What the emcees did not know was that she had been raped by an Italian travel agent only weeks before. She kept silent for a long time, but after a decade she decided, not only to tell her story, but to establish a web site where other women could tell their stories, too. When the stories started rolling in, she decided to travel to meet some of the women who had written to her. Soon she was giving speeches at events and on campuses, and offering moral support to anyone who needed it.

I don’t know when director Cecilia Peck got involved, but there is footage in Brave Miss World of Linor reading some of these early messages as they arrive. Peck has great access, and we really get to know Linor over the course of the film.

Linor comes across as gregarious, charismatic, and involved. She seems to have an unstoppable energy — the kind that would lead from “I decided to start a website,” to being the center of a large movement of rape survivors. It doesn’t hurt that she has the spark of celebrity, a self-confidence that immediately wins people over, even complete strangers.

The Celebrity or the Work?

The film is mostly a profile of Linor, peppered with facts, figures, and stories about rape around the world. She visits Fran Drescher and Joan Collins, and even some men who have been victims of rape. She shows us footage of the reprehensible “No means yes” fraternity chant at Yale. She travels to South Africa which had the misfortune to rank at the top of per-capita rapes.

There are also some personal plot points that seem to give the movie some movement and direction: Linor’s attacker is up for parole and she want to testify against his release. She meets a new boyfriend with the potential to become a fiancĂ©. She travels back to Italy to look for other victims of her rapist — they exist but they haven’t gone public. Toward the end she undergoes a religious transformation that threatens to change her friendship with a gay man whom she will no longer be allowed to hug or touch.

As charismatic as Linor is, and as essential her story is in lending structure to the film, I found the excessive focus on Linor to be distracting. Before I saw the credits I thought she was a producer, so I even found the film self-indulgent. Turns out I was wrong about that, so the decision to include so much of her was probably Peck’s. In any case, the film winds down with Linor’s religious and romantic changes, which I felt distracted from the story of the work she had done. Over the credits, there are videotaped personal thanks from survivors, as though Linor’s help, and not their own survival, not their sisterhood, was what was important.

If I admire Linor, it’s not because of her pageant wins or her personal transformations, it’s because of the work she’s done. Brave Miss World seems to lose that perspective toward the end.