Film Review: Ambulance


“Allah is sufficient for us and he is our guardian.” Amid the collapsed buildings, mountains of rubble and devastating atrocities seen in Ambulance, Mohamed Jabaly’s first-hand account of the 2014 Israeli bombardment of Gaza City, this refrain is uttered by young and old as a cry of resilience, faith and hope for the future. From an outside perspective, unquestioning conviction in a higher power during a time of such desolation may seem ill-placed, or indeed hopeless, but during fifty-one days of incessant bombing, innumerable casualties, a closed border to Egypt and the most recent and serious flashpoint of an unending conflict, families support one another, people grin in the face of adversity and strive to live from one day to the next, uncertain of when their number may be up.

The Palestinian people’s extraordinary defiance and will to overcome is truly humbling. The inside view offered by Jabaly, who was just 23 years at the time of filming, takes an audience to the epicentre of day to day suffering in a way that outside press could only dream but the brutal scenes witnessed here are the stuff of nightmares. Setting himself the simplest of remits for Ambulance, the young filmmaker accompanies, by day and by night, a crew of paramedics who hurtle along the bomb blasted streets of Gaza to buildings where bodies, of the living and the dead, lay buried in dust and rubble. Candid narration unfurls from Jabaly as a stream of terrified, almost meditative consciousness as he attempts to attribute some kind of meaning to his experiences.

Jabaly’s camera is both a tool to expose the truth of awful circumstances and a safety blanket, a talisman to keep him safe from harm – or at least this is his justification for so frequently putting himself in the line of fire: “Always having the camera with me had become a part of my life.” Somehow keeping knowledge of his actions from parents who we never see, the men inside the ambulance become Jabaly’s family for the duration; the singing of happy birthday to him offers a moment of respite and a touching reminder of the humanity found in this war zone. Driver Abu Marzouq exudes a stoical calm and is seen almost as a lucky charm but the elder man is struck down when a tower block is targeted by a missile at the exact moment the crew search for casualties.

It’s a disorientating, shocking sequence that is captured in distorted frames by Jabaly who, stunned into a trance by what occurs, only recalls the event after watching the footage back. “How do you feel?” he earlier asks of one his cohorts after one of many daring rescues of injured persons. “I don’t know” is the honest reply. These individuals exist as collateral damage outside the sphere of politics. It’s impossible to describe the ill-effects of half a million people displaced by bombs dropped on their homes, wrecking livelihoods and taking the lives of loved ones; Ambulance will leave you in a similar state of speechlessness, incredulity and admiration for their bravery.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens