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Review: 'Brave Miss World' charts a rape victim's new path

Linor Abargil's emotional response to being crowned Miss World in 1998 was more than just a case of tears of joy: Weeks before the event, the reigning Miss Israel had been raped at knifepoint in Milan, Italy. An 18-year-old with remarkable inner strength and a supportive family, Abargil refused to submit to shaming silence and fought to bring her attacker to justice.

"Brave Miss World," Cecilia Peck's intimate documentary portrait, illuminates the ways the attack changed the course of her subject's life — and shows that, in this supposedly enlightened age, rape victims who speak out are still often stigmatized rather than championed, even on U.S. college campuses.

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The film begins as Abargil launches a website where victims can share their stories, and follows her as she travels the globe to visit with survivors of rape, Joan Collins and Fran Drescher among them. Lesser-known women offer direct-to-camera testimony in some of the documentary's strongest sequences. Their horrendous stories take a toll on Abargil, who's compelling in her vulnerability and compassion as well as her toughness and anger.

Given considerable access over a period of four years, Peck celebrates Abargil as an impassioned and inspiring advocate while making clear the emotional complexities of her single-mindedness. With typical decisiveness, the beauty queen leaps into action to oppose parole for the serial rapist who attacked her. The conversation in "Brave Miss World" never touches on rehabilitation for the perpetrator; Abargil's focus is those who fall prey, and her empowering example is the refusal to internalize such victimhood.

calendar@latimes.com

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'Brave Miss World'

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino

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