Review: Sofia’s Last Ambulance (DVD, out Oct 13th)

Run Time: 77 minutes / Release Date: Oct 13th / Rating: None / Label: Second Run DVD / Year: 2012 / Region: 2 / Language: Bulgarian with English subtitles (optional)

aka Poslednata Iineika na Sofia

Director – Ilian Metev

Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, has more than one million inhabitants but only 13 ambulances… Ilian Metev’s gritty documentary follows two medics and their driver as they struggle to cope with the problems of a society on the brink of social and economic collapse. Metev’s film refreshingly lacks any sensationalism, political agenda or contrivances. A fly-on-the-dashboard record, this extraordinary, unsentimental ‘state-of-the-nation’ portrait emerges as a film of universal relevance about a decaying health care system within a society in transition. – Second Run DVD synopsis.

sofia

The director never shows any of the patients being treated. He concentrates on the ambulance crew as they help those injured or ill. It is a new way of shooting a documentary about the emergency services, most would gladly film the person suffering to create drama or interest in their movie. Sofia’s Last Ambulance does not indulge in this and it gives the work a unique feel.

The film feels as if the viewer is thrown into things straight away. A factory worker is hurt, with the camera filming the ambulances arrival. Little is offered on the incident at first. When the crew treat others more information is offered, however, and Mila Mikhailova is often shown trying to coax info out of the patients as she tends to them in the back of the ambulance.

The three person crew are often shown driving the vehicle and talking to each other about various subjects. The trio all seem likeable and have distinct personalities yet they all get along. Spending so much time in a cramped space no doubt forces interaction.

The film does pick up pace half way through. Mila is shown treating a badly hurt man in the ambulance who has been drinking alcohol. As she attempts to check his wound he refuses to keep still. He repeatedly tries to sit up, such causes Mila to become stressed and shout he must lie down otherwise his injury will worsen. It’s easy to imagine this sort of thing happening in the ambulances across the world when picking up drunken revellers.

It should also be noted that when the streets of Sofia, and other towns, are occasionally glimpsed on screen they won’t have people planning their next holiday in Bulgaria. Most of the streets are worn down, shabby and look near to ruins. Another film-maker would jump on this as chance to comment on Bulgaria’s dire economic and politic issues, but Metev thankfully sticks to the subject matter.

Special Features.

Tom Kirk talks to Ilian Metev – 17 minutes long. A very insightful laidback chat between sound recordist and director.

Goleshovo (short film) – 35 minutes long. Released in 2008 and funded by several British television stations and film foundations, this is an extraordinary look at the life of the 59 elderly residents of a run down Bulgarian town named Goleshovo. Metev shows them going to church, singing and talking. Most of them have only ever lived in this dying town, having never travelled far. They live simple lives and clearly cherish God (even drinking Holy Water in one scene).

A 12 page booklet contains a lot of information on Sofia’s Last Ambulance, written by one of the films editors Betina Ip. She reveals that the documentary took two years to shoot. Thanks to the editing it does not become apparent it took this long. Also included is an interview with Metev from 2012 in which he explains why the film, at times, feels like it is fiction instead of being factual.

Verdict.

The movie is a refreshing approach to following medics and ambulances on film, with the extra features adding to the meaning of the work. For fans of World Cinema this will be a highly rewarding purchase.

7 out of 10.

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