out of Five
Running time: 78
This inspiring and enlightening documentary about an extraordinary relationship, which formed in the most unlikely of situations, is wholly engaging and incredibly absorbing.
What’s it all about?
Directed and co-written by Alex Meillier, Alias Ruby Blade tells the true story of Kirsty Sword, an Australian activist who ended up falling in love with the resistance leader and one of the most wanted men in Timor, Xanana Gusmao. Originally aspiring to become a documentary filmmaker, Kirsty quickly became a revolutionary when she worked in Jakarta for the Timorese resistance during the 1990s. Becoming a conduit of information for Xanana, who at the time was serving a life sentence in Cipinang Prison for his revolutionary activities, Kirsty adopted the pseudonym Ruby Blade and began to smuggle video equipment, computers and audiocassettes to the prisoner. Over time, the pair eventually fell in love as they exchanged video messages, photographs and letters to one another.
As well as exploring their unusual romance, Alias Ruby Blade also looks at the history of East Timor’s fight for independence from Indonesia, which saw approximately 178,000 people die from killings, starvation and illness between 1975 and 1999.
Alias Ruby Blade is a riveting watch from start to finish. Both personal and informative, the story behind this documentary is unusual, striking and rather uplifting. The first act, which introduces the viewer to Kirsty and East Timor’s situation during the time of her revolution, provides a strong description of the circumstances and serves as a compelling opening for the film as a whole. Therefore, when Alias Ruby Blade starts to explore the extraordinary love story between Kirsty and Xanana, it becomes impossible not to admire the beauty and romance behind it all.
Director Alex Meillier comprises fascinating archival footage, present-day interviews with Sword and intuitive accounts from friends to tell the story and the blend works well, resulting in what is, overall, a well-paced and fully engaging documentary. As well as being incredibly personal, Alias Ruby Blade is also extremely factual, revealing a lot about the fight for freedom in East Timor and the incredible power of the individuals involved.
Kirsty comes across as a very likeable individual, thanks to her evident passion and lack of fear during the often violent resistance. Her insistence in recent interviews that she feels uncomfortable with being labelled as a hero is also believable, with Alias Ruby Blade revealing her to be extraordinarily humble.
The film’s account of the early days of their relationship, as the pair exchanged everything from paintings to bonsai plants, is also incredibly personal, offering an insightful glimpse into the compassionate personalities behind the public personas of these two now leading political figures.
Alias Ruby Blade: A Story of Love and Revolution is extraordinary and uplifting; the story of Kirsty and Xanana’s unlikely romance and a country’s fight for independence makes this action-packed documentary hard to miss. Highly recommended.
Alias Ruby Blade: A Story of Love and Revolution (tbc)