Sofia’s Last Ambulance

The documentary format where a TV crew follow a public servant, chronicling their professions ins and outs has become supremely trite over the last decade, the BBC are the prime offenders with this. Like the game show, with each new one popping up it becomes as a clear as day that these fit well within the TV stations cost-cutting methodology. Just when one believes that every possible deviation and variant had received its moment on the TV schedule, Sofia’s Last Ambulance arrives. In which Ilian Metev documents the human side of Sofia (Capital of Bulgaria), in which 1 million people are miraculously serviced by a mere 13 skeleton ambulance crews. Sounds made up, but it’s a classic case of truth being stranger than fiction.

Unlike the many documentaries swamping evening TV schedule, Sofia’s Last Ambulance is not about the nature of the ambulance bound professions, on the contrary it’s about the people maintaining that dazzling statistic. In that, Metev’s camera embraces the purest expression of the fly on the wall documentary whereby his gaze sticks to the driver, doctor and nurse without distraction. In that we learn the three people’s hopes, fears and struggles working against such overwhelming odds. In that, Sofia’s Last Ambulance manages to humanise humbly with a quiet poetry. In that, one could interpret Ilian Metev’s message investigates the very core of what makes Sofia the city it is.


There is a significant downside to this extraordinary documentary that is both a by-product of form and conviction. The fly on the wall presentation sees Metev mount three cameras on the dashboard of the ambulance, the majority of the footage is harvested from there. Occasionally there are other camera positions or handheld photography when they are transporting someone to hospital, or the crew barely evade an accident of their very own. Regrettably those occasions are exceptions to the rule. As such watching these three people without distraction, whether they are working or solemn in their silence with no b-roll or alternative footage to speak of makes for a visually monotonous piece. Consequently the meagre 80minute run time drags its heels and the pacing never develops beyond the sluggish. As true as this all may be, it doesn’t change the core truth that Sofia’s Last Ambulance is difficult to peel your eyes away from this beguiling documentary. Beyond that, Metev offers the perfect antidote to evening TV fatigue.

Elsewhere on Second Run’s DVD there is a fantastic collection of extra’s, including Ilian Metev’s award-winning 2008 short film Goleshovo; a newly filmed video piece featuring director Ilian Metev in conversation with the films’ sound recordist Tom Kirk (shot by the director especially for this release), and a booklet featuring a new essay on the film by the editor of Sofia’s Last Ambulance, Betina Ip.


Special Features
• Presented from a new HD digital transfer with restored picture and sound, approved by the director.
• In conversation – a new and exclusive filmed piece with the director and sound recordist Tom Kirk.
• Goleshovo – Ilian Metev’s award-winning 2008 short film.
• 12-page booklet featuring new writing on the film by editor Betina Ip, and an interview with the director.
• Released for the first time in the English-speaking world.


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