Emergency lights glaze the darkness of the night with blinding blue and red hues in Luke Lorentzen’s electrifying, Mexico City-set documentary “Midnight Family.”
In the business of preventing tragedy, the Ochoa family operates a private ambulance that supplements a decrepit system with only 45 government-owned units for a population of millions. Astute 17-year-old Juan (an avid driver), his naughty young brother Josué, and their ill father Fernando, brave the sprawling metropolis to aide victims of crime and accidents, gambling on whether the families will willingly pay them for their services.
Life-or-death incidents unfold before our eyes with intense urgency, yet the filmmaker finds breathing room to intimately profile a group of terribly underpaid heroes. Acting as his own cinematographer, Lorentzen rode in the back of the vehicle to procure first-hand accounts of the impoverished first responders’ unpredictable nightly trips. Footage obtained via a dashboard camera in the main cabin complements the piece as it grants unfiltered access to the trio’s affectionately crass banter. The men in this clan reserve gentleness only for those in crisis, between them tough love is the norm.
Concentrated on the premise’s fast-paced rawness, the young documentarian omits valuable information, like how the Ochoas entered this high-risk line of work in which they often don’t make enough to feed themselves and are constantly the victims of police extortion. What’s indelible in this visceral chronicle is that more than profiting from human suffering, the Ochoas fill the gaps of economic inequality while doing good without reservation.
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 13, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles