Imagine a film with very long shots. Imagine a film that doesn’t follow a clear story line. Imagine a film without reverse shots, without a commentary, without an exposition or a conventional interest in building up tension. Imagine that film to be set in Bulgaria. At night. Mostly inside an ambulance car. Imagine that film to be one of most exciting films of the year so far.
Sofia’s Last Ambulance is daring, because it is radical and subtle at the same time. As an audience we look through the dirty windows of an ambulance car whose passengers we will be with for the next 75 minutes. We can feel the poor condition of the public streets with every pothole we encounter –ba–bam– and as we drive along the streets –ba–bam– we very quickly –ba–bam, ba–bam– have the feeling of actually being in that car.
For a short amount of time we are part of the small team that consists of emergency doctor Krassi, nurse Milla and driver Plamka. Their full names are Krassimir Yordanov, Mila Mikhailova and Plamen Slavkov, but that, like many other facts and bits of background information, is something that the film doesn’t reveal. Instead, Sofia’s Last Ambulance tells us something about the urgency of the moment and about a general condition of a country, its system, and its citizens. (Only through external information did I learn that there are 13 emergency cars for a population of 2 million people in Bulgaris’s capital Sofia and that this film is about one of these cars).
We witness how Krassi and Milla rush from one mission to the next and get to know the ill citizens of Sofia without seeing much of the city and without ever seeing the patients. The camera, like a devoted emergency assistant, is always close to our heroes, never letting them out of sight, obsessed by the difficult work it gets to see and document at the same time. There is a little child that doesn’t really like to be driven in an ambulance car. There is a patient with a broken leg who just won’t listen. There is drug addict that has pumped the wrong substances into his veins. And there’s a woman for whom all hope is lost.
All this sounds horribly depressing, but young Bulgarian-born director Ilian Metev, who made his first feature-‐length film, is smart and sensitive enough to spare the audience images of the obvious. The drama is always tangible, but never visible.
Instead, and very cleverly so, Metev’s film is first and foremost a declaration of love for his subject and a statement on filming poverty. Through his quiet and humble gestures we can witness with some amazement that in film it is possible to express affection without music or pathos. His protagonists are clearly heroes – poor, yet resolute workers who constantly face hardship and work against all odds to help and save the lives of others.
Sofia’s Last Ambulance is therefore a surprisingly positive film, because instead of exposing the misery it radically focuses on its protagonists and their often optimistic attitudes in the face of situations that seem unbearable. The little chats, the small breaks and the cigarettes in between are what keeps Krassi, Milla and Plamka going, apart from their commitment to the work they do.
Uncompromising is the word that comes to mind when I think about Sofia’s Last Ambulance and how it has made its way into the cinemas. Though co-financed by the German TV-station, WDR, the film’s almost austere style couldn’t be further away from the conventions a TV audience is used to. The excessive use of long shots and a general mistrust of editing are proof of a filmmaker who dares to let form and content be equal partners. It takes a brave distributor like W Films to make this film seen and fearless cinemas like the fsk , Zukunft and Krokodil to show a film like this. What it needs now is an open-minded and curious audience – you!
Imagine you come out of the cinema thinking about the great actors and how natural they have seemed. Imagine going home and finding out that what you just saw was in fact no fiction film, but a documentary. Imagine any other film you have seen recently to have the balls not to tell you that. Imagine seeing great films like that every week.
Sofia’s Last Ambulance (Poslednata lineika na Sofia), Bulgaria/ Croatia/ Germany 2012, 75 min director: Ilian Metev, camera: Ilian Metev, languages: Bulgarian, distributor: W Films
We give away 2 x 2 free tickets for Sofia’s Last Ambulance for any of the above mentioned Berlin cinemas, just leave a comment with a valid e-mail adress until tomorrow, Friday, March 15th, 17:00.
Text edited by Cristian Gonzalez