Ambulance (2016) – Review

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Ambulance (2016) gaza documentaryAmbulance is a first-person documentary about the attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014. It was written and directed by Mohamed Jabaly, and covers the period he spent observing an ambulance crew in the war-torn city.

Ambulance arrives at an unfortunately pertinent time, with more attacks happening in Gaza within the past week. The seemingly never-ending conflict has a whole canon of fiction and cinema behind it, and in my humble opinion, there is an endless amount of room for more contributions from Palestinians. Mohamed Jabaly is the sole creative force behind Ambulance, he grew up in one of the neighbourhoods that was attacked in 2014, but this film can be applied to many areas of Palestine.

Jabaly accompanies paramedics as they rescue people from collapsed buildings in Gaza. Some of it is difficult to watch. Hospitals scenes are chaotic, with large numbers of family and press all squeezed into a small place. Sometimes the press are welcome, at other times they are not. The camera is often shaking from being thrown around as Jabaly runs to and from the ambulance/hospital/scene of complete devastation.

These chaotic moments are punctuated with scenes of relative quiet, where he interviews people whose homes have been destroyed, and reflects on the nature of his project. He talks of how he feels safe behind the camera, and we catch a glimpse of a street he used to cross to get to school, completely destroyed. After a genuinely terrifying moment, in which the Jalaby and the paramedics enter a building which is still under attack, as it is hit, he reflects on how not only did not realise he was still filming, but he could not believe that he had.

Ambulance (2016) gaza documentary Between the horror of the events occurring in Gaza are also touching scenes that give an insight into the friendship that develops between Jabaly and the ambulance team. Of special note is Abu Marzouq, the charismatic ambulance driver, and who sings Jabaly ‘Happy Birthday’. There is room for laughter when people are searching through the rubble that was once their home, and complain about the number of payments left on their washing machine. There is high tension and drama when Abu Marzouq becomes injured. Jabaly manages to capture this in a way that always brings the viewer back to unfortunate reality of said drama.

Jabaly’s narration adds a personal touch to the film, which otherwise takes a reserved stance on the political side of the conflict. There is little to no mention of Israel or their policies, and the film does not reflect on the conflict as a whole. What we mostly see is first-hand footage of the human suffering. When Jabaly first asks the paramedics for their opinion on what was happening, he keeps it simple. The question, ‘What do you think of what is happening?’ is met with laughter and praise of God. Either it is a juvenile journalistic move, or a deceptively clever one. How would we expect a person to answer a question like that?

As well as following the paramedics to air-raided homes, Jabaly also films Palestinians trying to cross the border to Egypt in an attempt to get medical treatment. Only slightly less chaotic and crowded, this change of scene shows a frustratingly illogical and bureaucratic part of this conflict that is less likely to make headlines.

Ambulance is ostensibly about Jabaly’s time spent with the ambulance crew, but it makes the audience think about all the other attacks in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It is at once, deeply personal, but tragically familiar. We feel like we have seen harrowing footage of injured Palestinians being rushed into hospitals, and their distraught families weeping openly before, but Ambulance is no less effective for it. The film is revealing in its portrayal of Palestinians as people who are used to and tired of tragedy, but who are also used to having cameras around capturing it. One man attempting to get to Egypt offers his story without prompting, then thanks the cameraman and says ‘tell them, tell everybody you want to tell.’ In a place where people’s homes are attacked with no warning, during the most sacred time of year, perhaps only faith in God and the opportunity to tell your story can provide hope.

Ambulance opens at the Bertha DocHouse (Curzon Bloomsbury) on August 26. http://dochouse.org/

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