There are fewer than 45 government-funded emergency ambulances in Mexico City — far from the sufficient number of vehicles needed to provide for the capital city’s nine million residents. This inadequacy has resulted in private, family-run businesses providing the same service, one of which is operated by the Ochoa family. Luke Lorentzen’s Midnight Family follows the Ochoas and, in the process, underlines issues plaguing the country’s healthcare system. The situation is dire: it takes 40 minutes for a boy with a gunshot wound to get an ambulance. More than simply prove the need for timely healthcare provisions, though, Midnight Family points to how for-profit healthcare can be disastrous. When the Ochoas help a high school girl physically abused by her boyfriend, the girl almost immediately asks a question regarding the cost of her care, serving as a grim reminder that emergency treatment is something people are willing to forgo due to the price tag. And when the girl’s family is unable to pay, the Ochoas work through another night without compensation. They’re happy to have helped someone, of course, but they’re upset with the outcome.
An early scene depicts the family’s home life, and reveals their unstable financial situation, a threat made all the more evident from their language, the tone of their voices, and their actions throughout the film. As such, Midnight Family’s consistent tension relies on two crucial components: both the urgency that defines the life of an EMT and the urgent struggle to resolve financial instability. In one of the film’s most painful sequences, police officers threaten to arrest the Ochoas for “stealing” the ‘bodies’ in their ambulance, a twofold frustration given that this interrogation not only prolongs the trip to the hospital, but also means the family could lose-out on this much-needed money. Midnight Family is consequently at its most compelling when it makes inextricable a link between the Ochoas’ morals and the government’s failed healthcare system — everything seems broken, and everyone just wants to survive.
Published as part of December 2019’s Before We Vanish.