I still can't believe this is a real documentary. I watched it, can find evidence it exists, but still I'm convinced that I'm asleep right now and the movie is a complete fabrication of my subconscious.
Unbelievably, in Mexico City, the government operates only 45 ambulances for a population of nearly nine million people. As a result, an industry has grown around medical practitioners providing emergency private care on an informal basis.
Director/one-man crew Luke Lorentzen takes us inside an ambulance with the Ochoa family as they respond to contracted clients of health insurance plans. Their ambulance turns up at medical emergencies and, after caring for patients, they begin the process of negotiating fees. It's not always clear how the payment system functions. In theory, they can charge 3,800 pesos for transport to a hospital. Sometimes they end up with nothing.
Teenager Juan is the chattiest of a team that includes his father, Fer, as well as a pre-teen younger brother, Josué, and a friend of the family. They squabble over money, deal with unreasonably cold water as a result of not having the gas turned on, and harass Josué about skipping school. While Juan is always an optimist ("It's cool to see a car crash or a gunshot wound, it's exciting"), his father is worried and discontented, popping pills and fretting that the world is not following his instructions. "Move out of the way, bus, we have a critical patient. Get off the sidewalk, you idiot," he yells, sounding like a character from Scorcese's 'Bringing Out the Dead'.
The Ochoas have been running their unit for almost 20 years. It's a business that fills a necessary gap in emergency services. They treat hundreds of patients each year - gunshot wounds, a child with a traumatic brain injury after falling four stories from a window, a girl who has been headbutted in the face by her boyfriend, a baby with a glue-addicted parent. When they aren't responding to calls, the Ochoas are scrubbing the blood from the vehicle or resting up for another stressful night. They have to try and beat the private ambulance services on retainer from certain hospitals, competing by racing through oceans of darkness lit by strobes and neon to arrive first at crime scenes or accidents. Police provide tipoffs and then have to be paid 300 peso bribes per accident. A new government administration only brings more corruption.
They have to try and beat the private ambulance services on retainer from certain hospitals, competing by racing through oceans of darkness lit by strobes and neon to arrive first at crime scenes or accidents.
'Midnight Family' is packed with tense moments and disturbing shots that, without compromising anyone's privacy, hint at the desperation of the lives being lived offscreen. Luckily, the Ochoas are, as much as they can be considering the duelling ethical and financial implications of their job, caring, responsible and well-equipped.
Thanks to Lorentzen's unobtrusive embedded presence within the ambulance, capturing a series of harrowing real-life vignettes, 'Midnight Family' reflects the present difficulties of blue-collar work and asks some alarming questions about the future of private healthcare. Try watching it at night, when you're too tired to do anything, but have just enough energy not to fall asleep.