Midnight Family (Luke Lorentzen, 2019) 4 out of 4 stars.
Imagine a country with a terrible national health-care infrastructure and little regulation over the ways that desperate citizens seek to not only do business, but survive. No, it’s not the United States (not yet, anyway, though our own medical system is not that great), but our neighbor to the south. Mexico has its share of serious problems, what with drug cartels and a hostile neighbor to the north (which would be us), but make no mistake: a lack of access to safe and affordable treatment, especially after an accident, is hardly minor.
Enter the Ochoa family, one of many clans and/or cooperatives that run private ambulances in Mexico City, since the local government only operates 45 (for a population of 9 million). Young Juan, just 17, is the principle driver, while patriarch Fer (for Fernando) and younger brother Josué each pull their weight, as well, joined by Fer’s friend Manuel. Racing through the night in gruesome pursuit of the latest road carnage or other mishap, their hope is that not only will they beat the competition to the scene, but that their patient-client will be able to pay … something, anything. After all, the vehicle and its equipment don’t cover their own expenses.
Off we go, then, on a ride through the speckled darkness of the metropolis, careening dangerously around curves and onto sidewalks. Time and again, we follow a victim to a hospital, only to see the Ochoas left without remuneration. Worse, when they bring someone whom they think can afford it to a private clinic, we watch in horror as that establishment is unable to meet the demands of the critically wounded.
We’re not always sure where our sympathies should lie. Our protagonists – Juan, especially – are a likeable bunch, yet their mercenary needs require them to take actions that are ethically questionable, at best. At other times, they do the right thing, but then where does that leave them? Particularly horrifying to me is the thought that, perhaps one day in the not so distant future if we don’t fix our own problems, this could be how things go here. I imagine that for those without health insurance, we’re already there.
Director Luke Lorentzen (New York Cuts), also the cameraman, is there every crazy high-speed turn of the way, spending enough time in the family’s off hours to give us a comprehensive sense of their lives beyond the late-night gig. Like most people, the Ochoas are, overall, mostly kind and loving, forced by circumstance and lack of other opportunities to occasionally act in ways that even they find difficult. Midnight Family may spend much of its time in the dark, but sheds spectacular light on the wonders and nightmares of the human condition.