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With his eyes on the war

Mohamed Jabaly's documentary debut Ambulance provides a unique insight into an 51 day long bombing of Gaza, seen from the driver's seat of the ambulance.


The sound of a bang. Baby Crying. The picture comes on, swinging by the hands holding it. The breath reveals a desperate state, before the voice erupts: "My God!" The premise for the rest of the film is set in the projection: We'll see what he sees. With the exception of one image, through subjective angulation, the documentary is filmed in the first-person perspective.

With Ambulance Palestinian Mohamed Jabaly has documented the 51-day bombing of Gaza in the summer of 2014 from the front: the driver's seat of an ambulance truck. On the backfield reflex, Jabaly has documented everything from day one, without telling his own family what he has spent the days doing. They would never let him go if they knew something.

Ambulance can be seen as the basis of evidence for Jabaly's application for residence in Norway. The filmmaker has struggled ever since he came to Norway in 2014, but the authorities want it differently. After pressure from the Norwegian film community and the local community in Tromsø, Jabaly, who had originally been dismissed on gray paper, renewed the treatment process before Christmas. So he can stay here a little longer, but still indefinitely.

Important documentation. Given how few news from the Gaza conflict actually comes from the Palestinian side, and that most of the sources used in Norwegian media are from the Israeli military, there is even greater reason to be interested in what Jabaly has to say. Ambulance has also received a lot of international attention and was shown during the IDFA festival in Amsterdam, where it participated in the main competition. It was also recently shown on NRK. In a time when NRK's ​​silence is total, to quote Torstein Dahle, it may be appropriate to allow such a subjective submission from the weak party.

The absurdity of war. In one second we have our eyes on the war. With a graphic image selection that goes formally according to the "show, don't tell" recipe, capabilities Ambulance effectively invoking universal emotions in us. The explicitly rhetorical grips create shock effects, the very personal touch fills the film with pathos. This is how the rhetorical evidence is utilized optimally. The goal is simple: that we as spectators should be able to feel the same feeling, no matter where we are – whether it is in safe Norway or in God-forsaken Gaza.

A long stream of nightmarish images hit us in the face. Since we end up in the middle of it, there is less need for a clear classical dramaturgical development – for this is how reality rarely plays out.

With a picture selection that goes formally according to the "show, don't tell" recipe, capabilities Ambulance effectively invoking universal emotions in us.

The many dark parties are sometimes balanced, as in the depiction of the ambulance staff's working life – which in itself is interesting and at times downright absurd. Their gallows humor and motive spirit are liberating. Single scenes call for ambiguous feelings that support the surreal reality – such as the one where the overcrowded ambulance is at full speed towards the hospital, and the ambulance man sitting behind is being attacked by various people who are raving about him checking them. The man on the stretcher pulls down drawers, while it is clipped to the driver in the front seat who calls in one set into the camera about how important it is to get those who need it most, first.

The personal and political. Playing effectively on pathos and subjective narrative structure is the reason for what Jabaly claims is one personal story rather than one political. He does not run anyone's errand – if so, then it must be the ambulance staff. But when is personal nonpolitical? And isn't the choice of portraying crisis situations as explicit indices of injustice just political? As audience members, we expect something with a political tone almost automatically when the sender is from Palestine. Israel has recently announced that it will build new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while the White House, just 11 days after Trump's inauguration, signaled its clear preference to place its embassy in Jerusalem. Then it is not only plausible, but strongly necessary with such a documentary narrative as the one Mohamed Jabaly delivers.

At the same time, there are no guidelines for how we should act. It is not the film's implicit political message that calls for the most urge for discussion.

The war documentary's paradox. We see many bodies. Distorted bodies. Bodies pulled from the ruins, exposed in the prickly white light, covered with a chalky dust from broken brick walls. Few victims are spared the camera. People are victims, symbols of war. Thus, they are reduced to objects for the film – at least they have no voice of their own.

Heaps of journalists and photographers stand outside the hospitals, ready to capture what they can with their appliances. The convulsive urge to document virtually everything that happens appears to be an added dimension to the insistence on the absurd of war: "Look here, bones from the foot to the guy we just sent on stretcher!" "And look here! Boy on stretcher. ” "See! See! See!" The crowd is large both outside and inside the hospital. The flashes go in one, one would think there were celebrities present. Everything has to go. Everything should be on tape.

This insistence on and the genuineness of documenting the payers of the war does not just call for ethical issues. You can also stretch your legs on what you are trying to convey. How much truth do we need to digest? And when should one protect the dignity and privacy of individuals? When should information and information go at the expense of this protection?

A long stream of nightmarish images hit us in the face.

The audience should sense that the director has considered and thought about these issues. The filmmaker must constantly balance an ethical knife edge in order for the work not to become a reality show characterized by sensationalism. Here lies the paradox of the war documentary. To embrace or censor the victims of war from the image is problematic for the authentic. We must realize that we are back in the spiral: the personal is political – that is why it is for the good of the majority that the truth comes out as concrete as possible. And the truth is unpleasant.

Ambulance is available at nrk. no.


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