MIDNIGHT FAMILY: FILM REVIEW
I went into Midnight Family with no expectations and came out stunned by the untold stories of the private ambulance system in Mexico City as well as the raw footage that director Luke Lorentzen was able to capture. Although the film follows a family who runs an ambulance business in Mexico to compensate for the mere 45 public ambulances in a city of 9 million, the ultimate thesis of Midnight Family is that in a country with a broken government and poor infrastructure, nobody wins, least of all its people.
The Ochas family consists of father Fer, teenage son Juan, and kid brother Josué. Every night, Fer operates under an incredible amount of stress, which worsens his already dwindling health. Juan can always be found at the wheel, confidently (sometimes too confidently) weaving in and out of traffic and pedestrians, in hopes of arriving at the scene before anyone else. Josué watches every night like a live action movie, as he would much rather be on a wild night’s adventure than going to school.
For the Ochas family, every night is a gamble for saved lives and profit. Some nights there are winnings in impact; a girl is rescued from physical abuse or a baby from a drugged-out father. Some nights there are winnings in cash. Rarely is there both, and most nights, long hours are worked with no compensation. Victims' families either don’t have money or don’t want to pay upon grieving for a loved one. Corruption in Mexico is not only found at the government level, but on the streets as well. The Ochas family is constantly harassed by the police, who coerce them for bribes and fees, even though they are often times the only ambulance on the scene. Corruption runs from the top down and seems almost impossible to escape. Although the family sets out to save people, their private ambulance also puts food on the table, bringing a complicated dynamic to this business. The suffering of others and Mexico’s glaring infrastructure gaps are what keeps the Ochas family alive.
Lorentzen excels as a sensitive and intentional storyteller, as he always shows the viewer enough to elicit shock, but shies away from being too intrusive toward the victims and the Ochas family. However, intrusive and intimate are not the same thing, as Lorentzen provides an extremely personal view of the Ochas family, following them from the start of a difficult night all the way to when they turn off the lights exhausted for bed. This largely stems from the fact that Lorentzen filmed the documentary over the course of three years, all the while developing an increasingly trusting relationship with the Ochas family.
However, some of the most intimate moments of the film come from what Lorentzen cannot bear to show on screen. In one event, the Ochas family goes on a long journey to save a girl with a severe brain injury, but she dies in their ambulance on the way to the hospital. The girl’s mother sits in the front seat, her face plagued with pure grief and terror. When the ambulance arrives at the hospital, the camera is placed outside of closed doors, where the viewer can only overhear, but not visibly see the uncomfortable and tense conversation between Juan and the victim’s mother. How can one possibly ask a mother whose daughter has just passed, to hand over some cash? It’s a uniquely delicate situation that the Ochas family must face almost every day.
Putting together a film like The Midnight Family is a giant feat in that it generates empathy for the Ochas family, while also making it clear that they are both profiting from and the product of a corrupt system. It’s these intimate, untold stories that highlight the way in which the lives of individuals can be dictated by a system they never chose to be a part of, and sometimes, the only way to survive is to play into it.