Playing in the U.S. Documentary competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 81 minutes; in Spanish with subtitles; screens with the short “The Dispossessed.” Next screening: Monday, Jan. 28, 3:30 p.m., Redstone Cinemas 1, Park City; Wednesday, noon, Sundance Mountain Resort Screening Room, Provo Canyon; Thursday, 9:45 p.m., Broadway Centre Cinemas 3, Salt Lake City; Friday, 2:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, Park City; Saturday, Feb. 2, 9:30 a.m., Prospector Square Theatre, Park City.
Luke Lorentzen’s verite-style documentary “Midnight Family” is an engrossing look at a family’s grit and determination to help the sick, wounded and dying in an unfeeling Mexico City.
The Ochoas run a private paramedic service, answering ambulance calls they hear on the scanner. They have to rush to be the first to a scene, because other ambulance companies are competing for the business. In a city where 45 government-operated ambulances serve a population of 9 million, there’s plenty of business for the for-profit guys.
The situation tests the Ochoas’ morality and financial plight with every call. The family wants to help anyone who’s hurt or ill. But they also need to get paid, usually from some relative who arrives at the hospital.
Lorentzen serves as director, cinematographer and editor, and he deftly illustrates the hot pursuits and the down times the Ochoas face every night. There’s a gritty intensity to the Mexico City street scenes, which are shown unadorned, without narration and with little background score.
That minimalism sometimes gets in the way of our empathizing fully with the Ochoas, or with the patents they’re treating. The movie might have benefited from a little bit of explanation of the more esoteric parts of this ambulance business.