Midnight Family (2019) ****

February 1st, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Luke Lorentzen; Documentary with Juan Ochoa, Fernando Ochoa, Josue Ochoa; Mexico 2019, 81 min.

Mexico City has a population of 9 million people; there are fewer than 45 public ambulances to service them. Luke Lorentzen’s observational feature documentary follows the Ochoa family who operate a private, for-profit ambulance which competes with other private emergency services for patients and a livelihood.

Shot on 85 nights over three years, Midnight Family is an emotional rollercoaster ride: three members of the Ochoa family drive their private ambulance through the hazardous streets of Mexico City, their professional label is Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT). The city council has designated just 45 ambulances for a metropolis of nine million. The reward for the private ambulances is meagre or even non-existence, the work dangerous, to say the least.

Juan, seventeen, is the real head of the family as his father Fer suffers from high blood pressure and is unwilling to cut down on food and soft drinks. Little brother Josue is only nine, and would much rather go on these eventful night forays than attend school (who wouldn’t). But Juan keeps a tight rein on him. The dysfunctional system dictates that these private ambulances can only go out, if no public ambulances are available. Even though the competition is fierce, ambulances race each other dangerously to be first at the scene of the accident. Midnight Family has a lot in common with the Romanian film When Evening Falls in Bucharest 

The police make things difficult: they either hang about waiting for bribes from the EMTs, or simply to ask for equipment to be updated before the crews are allowed to work. But payment is not guaranteed: many of the victims’ relatives cannot pay at all, others complain about the service, and pay only a pittance. Police, EMTs and private hospitals (who pay the ambulances for every patient delivered) are interdependent, they fight like dogs for the lion’s share of the business – with the EMTs at the bottom end of the heap.

Juan keeps the family together: he organises the shopping for the meagre meals, negotiates with the police and the victims’ relatives and chats amicable with his girlfriend Jessica on his mobile. One cannot believe that Juan is only seventeen, his braces are the only clue. The sheer pace of it all has ruined his father’s health, and the fear is that Juan might suffer the same fate.

The highlight of Midnight Family is the scene where are severely injured young woman is rescued. She fell from a fourth floor flat and suffered traumatic brain injuries. Father and son shout at cars and buses to get out of way, they give each tips for the short cuts, while the woman’s mother sits catatonic in the back. Lorentzen has dedicated the documentary to her daughter, who did not survive.

Bu the end, the audience is as exhausted as the Ochoa family. They are trying up to make up for a non-existent health-care system, being short-changed themselves in the process. But the way Juan is keeping family and job together deserves our admiration. Midnight Family is a nightly tour-de-force, a documentary film-noir, another They Rode by Night. It makes us cherish our own NHS even more. AS

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