Midnight Family (1091 Media) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, July 10th, 2020  

Midnight Family

Studio: 1091 Media

Mar 06, 2020 Web Exclusive
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"They were the craziest fractures I've ever seen...her bones were sticking straight out...four patients and no other ambulances show up."

It's quite the introduction, as we see a young Mexican man, Juan, wiping down a stretcher with the unmistakable stains of blood. In addition to this, we're shown a truly shocking statistic. One that I will leave out of this review, but for reference, London, a city with a similar population to Mexico City has around 1,100 emergency vehicles according to the London Ambulance Service Survey of 2018.

What Mexico City lacks in emergency vehicles is partly made up by a network of private Ambulances, owned and run for what profit they can make. They provide both a valuable and desperately needed service, but are also viewed in a "vulture" like way. It's this duality that seems to run right through Midnight Family.

For this documentary, we join the Ochoa family as they run their ambulance service under the late-night glare of Mexico's capital city. Director Luke Lorentzen brings this vibrant night-time city to life with stylish direction, and at times, the movie feels like a real-life Crawler, as the Ochoas literally race rivals to the scene of an accident. The worse the accident, the better the pay-off.

These rides are so thrilling precisely because they're real and because they're dangerous. Juan, driving with all the familiar brash confidence of a teenage petrol-head, navigates roads filled with unhelpful traffic, at breakneck speed in what are truly remarkable scenes. They're 10x more exciting than the choreographed action-movie sequences we're used to.

Footage of the road ahead is interspersed with a fixed camera that looks inward from the driver's center mirror, and is used throughout the film. Using this angle, can see the whole family; Juan, up-front and in the driver's seat, a mixture of confidence, concern and pure adrenalin all-over his young face. Fer, the head of the family, joins Juan in the front seats wearily directing traffic using the ambulance's loudspeaker. And in the back is a young, chubby boy called Josué, who can often be seen sliding around in the back, trying to hang on as the vehicle tears through the Mexican night.

The dynamic of the family is so wonderfully universal. There are jokes between them all, and arguments. I'm convinced that Spanish is the best language for arguing and my position on this has only strengthened. You can see each individuals' struggles. Josué, as any boy his age would, seems far more drawn to the late-night ambulance work than he does to his school, which he frequently misses. He also seems to be, inexplicably, the only one with money.

Fer, though the typical head of the family, appears to have relinquished much of the responsibility and authority to Juan, who's finding his feet in an unforgiving world. Juan is certainly the most affected and affecting character. Through him we see both sides of the story. Occasionally we see how cutthroat things are in the way he speaks, whether it's about money, food or the local (corrupt) police, but he also appears genuinely concerned for his patients, and truly impacted by their condition.

But it is exactly these patients that are the true victims of this awful situation. The local police are so blatantly corrupt that it's hard to imagine a competent government-run ambulance service at all. The Ochoas are trying to make ends meet the only way they know how, but they're in way over their heads. So it is heart-breaking to hear ordinary people in pain ask how much their treatment will cost them as their first thought. When a patient/customer argues over payment, Juan points out that no government ambulances arrived. He's right. But it doesn't make it any less painful to hear.

Lorentzen's approach is to let this all play out for the audience; a baby's hand reaches up as the child remains just out of shot. Police are bribed to provide heads-up information on accidents.

The view becomes crystal clear. Things are a mess. Those in power are failing their people. These are universal themes, and they assert themselves naturally, sitting at the forefront of the mind, ringing distressingly and alarmingly true thanks to this powerful piece of filmmaking. (www.midnightfamilyfilm.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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