MIDNIGHT FAMILY – Review by Diane Carson

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Midnight Family profiles the Ochoas’ Mexico City private ambulance work.

What can individuals do when they find themselves In dire economic straits with few options? In the case of the Ochoa family living in Mexico City, the answer is to run their own private ambulance service, a desperately needed resource since the Mexican government funds only forty-five emergency care ambulances in a city with a population of nine million people.

And so, as writer/director Luke Lorentzen’s documentary Midnight Family shows, each evening, pressed to provide for loved ones, father Fer and his two sons Juan and Josué monitor scanners and race, often dangerously fast, to respond before the other entrepreneurs trolling for patients and victims of tragedies. The problem for the Ochoa family arises as transported patient after patient reveals that they have no money to pay for the private service provided. As the older son Juan complains, they receive nothing for their equipment: bandages, saline solution, splints, neck braces, oxygen, medicine, and gas for the ambulance.

Factor in hassles from the police, the difficulty of obtaining the correct license plates, their returning home to no hot water for their own use, friction with their relatives, and a finely crafted, multi-faceted social portrait emerges organically. Lorentzen includes no authoritative, voiceover narration or music, giving us first-hand access to the Ochoas. Paramedic Juan, who just turned seventeen, admits that it’s exciting to see gunshot wounds and car crashes, raising additional questions about the impact of this ambulance service on them. He does admit what they see night after night is sad, as we also witness, and several of the incidents capture his compassionate care.

Working as his own cinematographer in cramped quarters, Lorentzen wisely trains his camera on the Ochoas and the streets from their point-of-view rather than the victims. This respects individuals’ privacy as it keeps the focus where it belongs, on a family scrambling to support themselves with a government that fails to provide needed emergency care for its citizens. Midnight Family offers a moving portrait of a complex, unfortunate situation for all concerned. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.