A ride-along with a paramedic ambulance during its shift is not anyone's idea of a fun ride. Yet, Bulgarian filmmaker Ilian Metev manages to create an enticing balance between light-heartedness and seriousness in this documentary about the daily lives of a medical crew on duty in the Bulgarian capital: veteran doctor Krassimir Yordanov, nurse Mila Mikhailova and driver Plamen Slavkov. Structured loosely like a fictional narrative with its succession of episodes but entirely created out of documentary footage (some of which shot by cameras attached to the ambulance's windshield), Mr. Metev's film is an attentive, thoughtful proposition whose apparent proximity to Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead isn't as unlikely as it may seem.

     This isn't about the patients (none of which are ever shown or identified) but about the tight-knit crew and how they respond and react to the cases they handle on a daily basis - and, especially, to the dismal conditions they have to work in, as theirs is one of 13 ambulances serving the whole two-million city. From malfunctioning radios to crank calls or relatives wanting to shift their family burdens on to the medical services, it's very clear that the genuine love they have for their job is the only thing keeping these people butting heads against the frustration they feel at the lack of acknowledgement and appreciation given to them and sacrificing their own personal lives.

     Alternating between the idle moments of chatter while cruising or waiting for a call (with fixed cameras looking in from the windshield) and the scenes of house or street call (mostly shot fly-on-the-wall handheld or with a camera looking out of the windshield), Sofia's Last Ambulance is a thoughtful film about the people inside the jobs, and about the value society as a whole attributes nowadays to such public-service work.

Director and camera: Ilian Metev  (colour)
Sound: Tom Kirk
Editors: Mr. Metev, Bettina Ip
Producers: Dimitar Gotchev, Siniša Juričić, Ingmar Trost, Mr. Metev  (SIA, Nukleus Film and Sutor Kolonko in association with Chaconna Films and Impact Partners, in co-production with WDR)
Bulgaria/Germany/Croatia/USA, 2012, 80 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2012 official competition screener, Lisbon, October 26th 2012

Sofia's Last Ambulance from Nukleus film (Croatia) on Vimeo.


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