I can't heap enough praise on "Sofia's Last Ambulance," a Cannes 2012 prize-winner that's having its U.S. premiere tonight as part of MoMA's Documentary Fortnight program. Combining a refreshing formal inventiveness with a searing sense of post-Communist malaise, the film follows three paramedics on duty in Bulgaria’s capital city–it's equal parts urgent real-life chronicle and meditative long-take art cinema. Picture Fredrick Wiseman directing The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. I wrote about the film and a couple of other Eastern European standout docs in this week's Docutopia column at SundanceNow, and I thought it was worth highlighting again here for its ingenious mix of experiential verite filmmaking with incisive political critique.
Here is an excerpt from the piece:
"Like Cristi Puiu’s celebrated long night’s journey into medical dysfunction, Sofia’s Last Ambulance suggests a similarly overburdened, under-funded system in which chain-smoking EMTs are struggling to do their job against all odds; even cab drivers, apparently, are out to sabotage them.
In Sofia’s Last Ambulance, filmmaker Ilian Metev exclusively focuses on the caregivers; their patients always appear just off-screen. Hence we only hear the sickly heavy wheezing of a man dying from a brain hemorrhage, the pleas of a mother trying to help her bedridden 28-year-old junkie son who shoots powdered brick instead of heroine, and, in one of the most stunning moments in the film (or any film this year), a young girl’s yelps of pain from inside the back of an ambulance as it bounces agonizingly over the pot-holed streets (“it’s shaking,” she whimpers), while a female paramedic distracts her by sticking out her tongue."