Originally a Portuguese colony, the country of East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. What ensued was the loss of countless lives either from massacre or starvation. The country had a series of rebellions against the militia. Most, if not all, were led by charismatic and enigmatic revolutionary, Xanana Gusmão — a wanted activist that his followers would stop at nothing to protect.
Australian filmmaker Kirsty Sword grew up with parents who encouraged her to have eyes open to the world. At the time, the country of East Timor was closed to media. Sword and her camera crew had to disguise themselves as tourists during their visit to the impoverished nation. Although they received curious stares, they videotaped and documented the horrors the country faced on a daily basis.
After a 16-year search, Gusmão was captured and imprisoned, causing “a blow to people’s morale.” Told through the personal accounts and interviews of Sword and other key players in the revolution, “Alias Ruby Blade” not only tells an unbelievable political saga but a love story as well. Sword moves to Indonesia and conveys information and documents for the jailed Gusmão and works as his spy.
For her safety she adopts a pseudonym: Kirsty Sword is now Ruby Blade.
When Sword and Gusmão communicated more through video tapes, photos and letters, the two fell for each other. Their intimacy started to “grow,” so to speak, when Gusmão sent her bonsai plants from his prison. This was accompanied by paintings of the woman he never met. What follows is a whirlwind of violence, courage and eventually an extremely wanted referendum for the nation.
The film was compelling and undeniably convincing in its approach to tell the shocking history of East Timor. You were able to see the genuine fear on faces from the sweat that dampened foreheads and tears that poured from the eyes of thousands.
However, despite the bloody goriness of the massacres, you felt the sense of community amongst this nation. At a time when it was either follow the government or die, many individuals never let self pride stand in their way.
The pounding drums enhanced the background music to add a suspenseful touch. The audience will wonder if the undercover “tourists” get caught by police and if the media ever gives the nation the attention it deserved. Although he was not interviewed in the film, there were clear contrasts between Gusmão the captivating revolutionary and Gusmão the hopeless romantic. Viewers were able to get a glimpse into how likeable of a man he remained while in jail – befriending fellow inmates and even prison officials. Perhaps the most touching part of the film occurred towards the end when it is evident how beloved this man was and still is.
A person unfamiliar with East Timor’s history will wonder for much of the movie whether or not the country will finally be granted independence.
On the surface, “Alias Ruby Blade” is a story of a repressed and controlled nation who simply needed independence. When looked at more closely, the film is an incredible documentation of teamwork, love, political activism and a nation’s brutal fight to be free.
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