Full Frame Review: Midnight Family

Ever watch a film and your first response is: I don’t think the board of tourism secretly sponsored this film. When the lights came up on Midnight Family, I was blown away by the exploits of the Ochoas family and decided to postpone any dream of visiting Mexico City. There are nine million people in Mexico City proper and only 45 municipal ambulances to rescue people with public health insurance. This leads to a large business in independent private ambulances that zip around the streets looking for people who need immediate attention and trips to the hospitals. Midnight Family follows the Ochaos over the course of a few days.

Cruising around the city after dark in the ambulance is the teenage Juan behind the wheel. His father and uncle are the grown ups on duty. His younger brother tags along to learn the family business. It’s a rough business because there’s a lot of people in their own family ambulances listening to the same police scanner. Some do get advantages by bribing cops so they will give them a cut of whatever the rescued person pays for the service of not having to wait for one of the 45 ambulances to finally arrive. The Ochaos are far from rolling in cash. This is a risk to reward business. The risk is that a lot of people in the city do not have private insurance or the money to pay for the service. But when the patients do, the money is good. It’s like wildcatting for broken bones. This is what leads Juan to tackle the streets like a Formula 1 racer. There’s quite a few times where he’s cutting off other ambulances to get to the scene first. Because of cameras hooked up inside and outside the ambulance, these chases are intense on a NASCAR level. And you’re left guessing if at the end of the race, will the winner get paid. Even when they do get paid, there’s a chance the cops will take the profit as their tip.

If I had been told that Midnight Family was a dramatic film from Mexico, I’d still be blown away by the complexity and subtle nature of the film. I’d be hoping they’d turn it into a series. But the fact that this is a documentary about a real family struggling as medical professionals after dark makes it even more impressive. Luke Lorentzen (who served as director, cinematographer and editor) gets deep into the drama within the family and the nightmares found on the streets. He delivers the action when necessary and finds those quiet times when the family sits by the police radio eager for the next potential customer. He angles his camera so the injured have a bit of privacy and viewers aren’t being grossed out with gore. There’s still a bit of blood that has to get wiped out of the back of the ambulance. There’s nothing glamorous with this gig. Lorentzen shows the dirty business of getting rushed to the hospital in Mexico City. The Ochaos struggle on so many levels. There’s a moment when a cop puts Juan in the back of his squad car to get his payday. This isn’t a crossover of Chicago PD and Chicago Med. This is better. And you’ll question the wisdom of being a part of this health care industry. But you know every night the Ochaos need to hit the streets looking for the injured. Luke Lorentzen delivers a vibrant view of the private ambulance life in Midnight Family.

Midnight Family was reviewed at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

Tags: , ,