Sofia's Last Ambulance

Sofia's Last Ambulance


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Ilian Metev’s 76-minute documentary Sofia’s Last Ambulance offers a ground-level perspective of three ambulance workers to such an unflinching degree that its lengthy passages in which nothing seems to happen begin to appear abstract. Lending a kind of narrative autonomy to Dr. Krassi Yordanov, medic Mila Mikhailova and driver Plamen Slavkov, the film’s strict and self-imposed limitations mean that the wider forces by which the trio’s gruelling routine is largely governed only seep through here and there.

Like many documentaries (and even features) of this kind, Sofia’s Last Ambulance foregrounds those moments and activities that are traditionally omitted from dramatic narratives in order to present an exhausting view of a job we might otherwise take for granted. In contrast to the fly-on-the-wall reality series plaguing television screens that look as much at the gruesome and freaky wounds to which first-on-the-scene medics attend, the film resembles more The Death Of Mr Lazarescu (2005) with its emphasis on the mundane.

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Considering its limited vantage point, there is also a considerable evocation of place, especially in those sequences in which Metev films from the front of the ambulance, negotiating at dusk the remote streets of Pazardzhik Province, with which Bulgaria’s capital Sofia shares its border. At night especially, the higher aperture setting on the digital cameras gives visual grain and a drag effect to facial gestures, suggesting a kind of natural exhaustion when Mila appears to blink more slowly than normal, struggling to keep her eyes open.

Despite and because of this narrow perspective, there’s a macabre edge to scenes in which Krassi and Mila enter a home to find its sole occupant has died of a tumour and such information is conveyed through speech alone (“Her eye has leaked out, and those are worms”), or when Mila struggles to keep a drunken patient on a stretcher long enough to tend to his badly broken leg. In each instance, we remain with the staff, their faces doubling as reminders of an ongoing patience and humanity even when faced with ghoulish scenarios. And all the while, the dashboard-mounted camera rattles (“bloody potholes”).

We learn very little about our subjects. Perhaps the two statements that ring loudest are those simple utterances, both from Mila, which point to an overworked and underpaid profession: “I have to make some cash”, she says at one point, and when asked how her love life is at another, she responds, “rubbish”. As such, Metev’s decision to include, late in the film, a moment when the three stop to shake apples from a tree, is telling: this daily grind is punctuated only with small mercies.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2013
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Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, has more than two million inhabitants and only 13 ambulances... this documentary follows one of them.
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Director: Ilian Metev

Starring: Krassimir Yordanov, Mila Mikhailova, Plamen Slavkov

Year: 2012

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: Croatia, Bulgaria, Germany


EIFF 2013

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