×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Midnight Family’

A family attempts to make a meager living operating a private ambulance in Mexico City in Luke Lorentzen’s gripping doc.

Director:
Luke Lorentzen
With:
Juan Ochoa, Fer Ochoa, Josué Ochoa, Manuel Hernández.

1 hour 21 minutes

If you think the health care system is flawed in America, “Midnight Family” provides a stark snapshot of how truly broken things are in Mexico City, where fewer than 45 public ambulances serve a population of 9 million. Luke Lorentzen’s documentary takes up residence alongside the Ochoa family, who earn a living — just barely — by operating one of the metropolis’ numerous privately owned ambulances, ferrying the injured to hospitals in hopes of being monetarily rewarded for their efforts. Portraits of institutional dysfunction don’t come much more urgent, and quietly bleak, than this, which should help the film attract serious attention following its Sundance Film Festival premiere.

Though medically unstable Fer is the nominal head of the Ochoa household, it’s his mature 17-year-old son Juan who — despite his youthful complexion (replete with braces) and habit of hugging a giant stuffed animal during interviews — who’s the clan’s real father figure. Theirs is a tenuous existence in which each night is spent hanging out in the ambulance waiting for a call. When emergency notifications arrive, they ignite harrowing races through Mexico City’s bustling streets, as the Ochoas try to beat rival EMT outfits to the scene and, then, to quickly strap the wounded into stretchers and load them into the back of their van.

Such urgency comes, of course, from their desire to help people survive potentially serious injuries. Yet as Lorentzen’s film makes clear via the Ochoas’ day-to-day ordeal, it’s also driven by a desire to lock citizens into their care — which, ostensibly, will result in payment at the end of the ride. “Midnight Family” illustrates that compensation is rarely in the cards here, as haggling leads to either polite apologies from those unable to pay, or harsher rejections from those simply unwilling to reimburse the paramedics for their trouble. As if that weren’t problematic enough for Juan and Fern, who can only assume their duties if a public ambulance doesn’t show up first, the police are constant impediments, blocking them from accepting patients, citing them for unreasonable (and supposedly made-up) violations, and, at one point, threatening to arrest Juan if they aren’t paid a bribe.

“Midnight Family” conveys all of this by sticking close to the Ochoas as they navigate an untenable state of affairs that links private ambulances, hospitals and police officers in a web of financial self-interest. Serving as his own cinematographer and editor, director Lorentzen generates intense empathy by following Juan and Fern  during a breakneck attempt to get a young girl with a traumatic brain injury to a hospital — yelling at passing cars through a loudspeaker, and giving traffic directions to each other — while the girl’s terrified mother sits beside them in the front seat. At such moments, the film achieves a powerful measure of suspense that’s intricately tied up in its despairing sociological depiction of a system that’s come apart at the seams.

Through it all, Juan counts every penny, spends frugally (on, for example, a dinner of tuna fish and corn), recounts his exploits to his girlfriend on the phone, and cares for his younger brother Josué, who prefers to spend his time ratting around in the back of the ambulance — laughing with friends, eating chips or catching a quick nap — rather than attending school. In his criticisms of his sibling’s delinquency, which come equipped with explanations about why an education is so important, Juan proves himself an everyday hero, trying at home and in the streets as a paramedic, to keep his — and everyone else’s — world together.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Midnight Family'

Reviewed at Cinereach, New York, Jan 16, 2019 (In Sundance Film Festival — U.S. Documentary Competition). Running time: 81 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Hedgehog and No Ficción production in association with Catapult Film Fund. (International sale: Autlook Films, Vienna.) Producers: Kellen Quinn, Luke Lorentzen, Daniela Alatorre, Elena Fortes.   Autlook Films out of Vienna

Crew: Director, editor: Luke Lorentzen. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Lorentzen. Music: Los Shajatos.

With: Juan Ochoa, Fer Ochoa, Josué Ochoa, Manuel Hernández.

More Film

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

  • ALACARTE_HOME

    Brazil’s Pandora Filmes Readies Country’s First Classic Film Streaming Platform

    Brazilian distribution company Pandora Filmes was founded by André Sturm in 1989 as the country’s first independent distributor of foreign and domestic, classic and contemporary arthouse cinema. Still pushing the envelope three decades later, Juliana Brito is representing the company at this year’s Lumiere Festival, looking for classic film titles to fill out the catalog [...]

  • Hannah Minghella

    Bad Robot Poaches TriStar Pictures President Hannah Minghella to Lead Film Unit

    In a surprise announcement Thursday, J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot revealed it has lured away Sony Pictures executive Hannah Minghella to lead its film division. Minghella will report to Abrams and Bad Robot co-CEO Katie McGrath. She will oversee both development and production. TriStar executive vice president Nicole Brown will take up the mantle in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content