Although many U.S. Americans agree that their country’s health-care system compares unfavorably to those of other developed nations (in terms of affordability and equal access among the rich and the poor), few people have taken the time to learn how governments around the world are similarly failing their citizens’ right to medical assistance by shifting responsibilities toward the private sector. A case in point is the increasingly dysfunctional, underfunded system in which the ambulance-driving subjects of director Luke Lorentzen’s dazzling new documentary Midnight Family are forced to operate. Focusing on members of the immensely likeable Ochoa family (patriarch Fernando and his sons Juan, Manuel, and Josue), this high-octane cinema verité “thriller” reveals how their for-profit ambulance company is caught in an ethical bind whenever patients are unable to pay for their services. Tagging along with the Ochoas as they barrel down Mexico City’s traffic-choked streets at breakneck speed, Lorentzen brings an electrifying jolt to the screen each time a call for help comes in. The family races against time as well as other emergency responders, and the director’s initially humorous presentation of cutthroat competition as well as their potential for moral compromise gradually comes to denote the more serious, systemic problems plaguing Mexico’s health-care system, wherein questionable financial transactions (including police bribes) are now part of the equation. In one of its most eye-opening sequences, Midnight Family spells out the fact that fewer than fifty publicly funded ambulances serve a population of approximately nine million. Thus, the readiness of some people to relieve their government of its care-giving responsibilities can be interpreted as their willingness, perhaps even eagerness, to make money from the ailments, misfortunes, and vulnerabilities of others — a truly unsettling proposition that will sound eerily familiar to some stateside audiences.
Written by David Scott Diffrient