In Mexico City's wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a for-profit ambulance, competing with other unlicensed EMTs for patients in need of urgent care. In this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.
"Midnight Family" is an intense documentary that looks at a side of healthcare in Mexico City that I had simply never heard of before. In a city with a population of 9 million the government runs only 45 public ambulances to serve the sprawled-out denizens. Instead, the city is mostly serviced by private individuals or groups who operate ambulances which try to make up for the paltry efforts of the government to meet the emergency services needs of the people.
The film focuses on the Ochoa family who operate one of these ambulances. We accompany them on several calls which range from bloody noses to fatal accidents over the course of a couple of weeks. As we get to know the different members of the family, we see how the difficult situation affects them in many ways. Bribes, unreliable and even rare payment, and competition with other ambulance services make their jobs very difficult, exhausting, and even hazardous to safety as well as their own mental health.
If you want a documentary that has the intensity of a major motion picture, this is it. The runs in the city are hectic and, as different realities that Ochoa's deal with on a nightly basis happen on camera, I was constantly surprised at the morass of individual roadblocks there are to people in Mexico City receiving decent medical care. I learned a lot about the many faces that corruption and poverty wear in that city even as I realized how much I take for granted the benefits we enjoy in this country.
As much as I was learning, I was never for a second bored. This movie moves but it is also exhausting. When I got out of the theater I expected that the time would be around 8:45 pm but it was only 8:00 pm. The director and editor did a great job of packing this film with tension but also presenting the feeling of exhaustion and futility that this family has to deal with. As an audience member I couldn't help but feel for these guys
Unfortunately, while I was engaged greatly by the film, it does leave something to be desired when it comes to personal connection to the characters and does little to answer questions that an audience who knows little of the Mexican Health Care System. Why are there so few ambulances, are the private ambulances capitalizing on people's suffering, and how many of the patient's complaints are actually legitimate? These questions take total buy- in to the Ochoa's situation from automatic to requiring a conscious choice.
For a documentary, the film had remarkably immersive cinematography in some fantastically difficult situations to shoot. Specific choices that were made add dramatically to that sense of reality and do much to help you forget that you are watching a finely crafted film and not simply a fly on the wall document of fact.
Overall, this film really rocked me and sparked a very interesting conversation amongst those of us who saw it but keeps the film from having the sort of staying power that makes me want to remember it for years to come. It's a film that begs the audience to not ask too many questions but take everything at face value but also presents the main subjects as people of interest but also mystery, since they present a very one sided view of the situation which always seems a little suspect.
It doesn't answer every question you will ask as you drive home and discuss the movie after seeing it but it will keep you dramatically engaged throughout with a pacing that takes you from frenetic action to exhausted waiting for the next call. As this is the actual experience of this family, perhaps that is the best compliment we can give this film, film maker, and family.
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