Documentaries can usually be rated according to the
sophistication of their technique. They might have a flashy style or an impressive array of
interviewees; they might illustrate a point with diverting animated segments or
create mood with an impressive soundtrack.
This is where Ambulance
confounds. As straightforward as its title, it’s about as stripped-back and
unadorned as a film can be while still remaining a film: Ambulance is just one man, one camera, and a sparse declarative
voice-over. What strikes you about the filmmaking isn’t editorial slickness or
cleverness of conceit, but the sheer bravery of the filmmaker.
Step forward Mohamed Jabaly, a 23-year-old who rides into
the heart of his fears with only a camera for psychological and talismanic protection.
filmed during the 2014 Israeli offensive when Gaza was being bombarded. A
resident of Gaza, Jabaly decided he’d rather not sit around waiting to be hit
by a missile, and instead chose to ride shotgun with a crew of insanely courageous
medics. Ambulance is ‘simply’ the
edited footage he shot during this time. It is also astonishing.
What becomes apparent while watching Ambulance – and what the film goes some way towards remedying – is
how one’s perspective of a distant conflict ends up being chiefly informed by
news clips. We get used to those safe aerial shots, wide-angle city-scape
panoramas that show the skyline thick with orange smoke – terrible, but
beautiful and distanced, like a John Martin apocalypse painting.
For most of Ambulance,
Jabaly is right in the thick of it. One extraordinary sequence shows the
ambulance crew called to a building that then explodes right next to them. The
crew’s captain – the indomitable Abu Marzouq – is struck by flying rubble and
rushed to hospital, from which he emerges with stitches in his head and a
determination to finish his shift.
To come up with an equivalently immediate and
unfiltered portrayal of war-time valour, you have to reach back to books like All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms, stories that have a simplicity and directness that comes from sheer proximity to danger.
It seems dismissive to harp on about the simplicity of Ambulance, as if Jabaly was somehow less
of a filmmaker, just an ingénue in the place at the right time: it’s worth
mentioning that the film is seamlessly edited, not one minute too long, and
would be nothing without Jabaly’s eye for the fascinating and the absurd. But the simplicity is his film’s great
strength. Ambulance goes right to the root of the word ‘documentary’ – it is an invaluable document of a time and a place and the heroism of those who live there.
An incredible achievement, Ambulance raises the bar for war-zone documentaries, and introduces
Jabaly as a formidable talent and dedicated artist.
|What||Ambulance film review|
The Brunswick, London, WC1N 1AW | MAP
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
26 Aug 16 – 26 Oct 16, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|