At a quick seventy five minutes, Sofia’s Last Ambulance seems like something you could take in on a lunch break. However, watching Bulgaria’s EMTs’ empathy shrink and their apathy take over may not be how you want to spend your afternoon.
In the city of Sofia, in Bulgaria, thirteen ambulances struggle to serve the city of over 2 million. The film follows three people, all sharing the same ambulance, as they travel the city at warp speeds to attempt rescue. The system is broken. This becomes evident not only with the overloads of requests for their ambulance to be in many places at once, but about half an hour into the film, you watch as the crew tries to reach headquarters for any assignments and they don’t respond for over half an hour. I can’t imagine living in a society where this was tolerated. We Americans enjoy a luxury when it comes to the EMT services and trauma centers in our hospitals. If you think our system is broken, try breaking your leg in Bulgaria. It appears that due to demand for ambulances, if you haven’t suffered a stroke or something worse, they cannot even consider taking you into the hospital. You can stay at home.
The film is shot entirely from the point of view of the mounted camera. Many shots straight on the faces of the three in the ambulance. It seems most of the time the camera is just mounted on the dash and monitoring their faces for emotions. The aggravating factor with this shot comes when they converse about things they see outside the ambulance, but there is no camera shot for us to enjoy that view as well. There are comments about huge dream homes they see or watching a woman cross the road who seems all too confident in her life. The viewer is left to their imagination for these images.
A few times in the film, the crew is filmed outside of the ambulance, caring for a patient. Now, I know that for privacy reasons these patient’s faces are not shown. However, it would have been nice to at least get a shot of the injury, or the location where it happened, so that we, as the viewer, could piece together what it was they were working with. As a healthcare professional by day, I was also interested in what kind of equipment they were using. I imagine that with the look of the town and the age of the ambulance, their equipment had to be something we, in the US, stopped using over a decade ago. But none of these things were shown to us either.
As the film progresses, the tired looks of the crew grow weary. They are caught up in long, drawn out conversations with mothers that have let their son inject something they are calling “trash” into his body for the last fifteen years. It is apparent that these EMTs are not only responsible for sustaining life but giving advice and a bit of therapy along the way. The film definitely wears on the viewer after a bit. Not in a sense that the film is bad, but that their bad situation is getting to be too much to live with. There are, however, light moments of humor at times in the film. There are times when the camera caught the crew singing together as well as a time when they stop to shake a fruit tree for some much needed snacking.
Watching Sofia’s Last Ambulance will certainly shake you to your core and humble anyone with a heart. The film has already won many awards. The film premiered at the 51st Semaine de la Critique (International Critics’ Week) at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the inaugural France 4 Visionary Award (France 4 Prix Revelation)-wikipedia.com. The film has also won Best Documentary Feature at many other film festivals. Personally, I don’t see the glitter in shooting the documentary in this point of view. It really restrains what the viewer can see. However, the story itself is heart-breaking and has garnered the attention of that town in Bulgaria to start using a few more ambulances and hiring more EMTs.
As a fellow healthcare professional myself, my heart goes out to all the other healthcare professionals that put it all on the line to save lives everyday. I am humbled and in awe of what this crew had/has to endure everyday just to get by.
I give Sofia’s Last Ambulance 3 “ambu bags” out of 5
by Angela Davis
Tuesday, March 12
1:45PM – 3:01PM
Venue: Violet Crown 3&4
Thursday, March 14
Venue: Violet Crown 1&2