An uncompromising view of Sofia’s Last Ambulance

In Sofia's Last Ambulance, doctor Yordanov, nurse Mila and driver Plamen are in charge of one of only 13 ambulances that serve a city with a population of 1.2 million. They have to contend with the crumbling healthcare system, drunk and drugged patients and their panic-stricken family members, careless drivers and potholes that seem to riddle all of the streets in the bustling city of Sofia.

Bulgarian director Ilian Metev opts for a purely observational approach – there are no interviews nor a voice-over, and for the whole duration of the film, we are in the ambulance with the medical crew, or in the flats and houses where they go to tend to patients. But we never see any faces, except for those of the ambulance team. We hear what the patients and their family members are saying, and sometimes we see a leg or the back of the head of a patient on a stretcher as the nurse treats him or her, but the camera never leaves the three protagonists.

Often the camera is set on the ambulance’s dashboard facing backwards, providing close-ups of the trio. The white-haired doctor and the fortysomething nurse keep smoking cigarettes, and the young driver almost never stops smiling. As the ambulance wheels hit a pothole, the camera shakes and we hear the noises you would expect.

Sofia’s Last Ambulance is as pure and as uncompromising as a documentary film gets, and the director’s manipulation of the audience is as minimal as the film medium allows. It is a movie about the ruined healthcare system within a society in transition, but more than that, it’s a study of three dedicated professionals with a passion for their job and a love for humanity.

The documentary, which premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival (51st Critics' Week), where it was awarded the France 4 Visionary Prize, has travelled to several high-profile festivals, including the 2012 Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Best Documentary Feature) and the 2012 Zurich Film Festival (Special Mention).

Co-produced by Bulgaria, Croatia and Germany, Sofia’s Last Ambulance is available via video on demand (the Docs from Around the World collection) from 15 May in Spain, Denmark, Norway, Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

27 May 2015, by Cineuropa

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