Midnight Family Luke Lorentzen (Doc; USA: 2019)
viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle; 24 Feb 2020; ticket:£10.75
one man band
Life with the Ochoa family’s privately run Mexico City ambulance service caught on camera.
The problem with the Ochoa ambulance service is that when they come to scoop you up off the street and whisk you off to the hospital of their choice, can you trust them? A difficult question in what is certainly a difficult situation for any unfortunate victim of an accident or act of violence.
But the same question arises in my mind in relation to Luke Lorentzen. Can I trust him as a film maker? Is he just another ambulance chaser wanting to make a quick buck turning over a film based on sharp practice? Lorentzen, modestly claims multiple credits for direction, writing, editing and camera. But the question arises who/or what is keeping Lorentzen on track? In claiming total control without the moderation of any key production personnel this is one man taking all the key decisions in relation to narrative form and structure of his film without the discipline of professional dialogue or editorial discourse.
If Lorentzen made ‘Midnight Family’ without the moderating influence of professional discourse, did he adopt some imperative or at least a moral compass to guide his decision making? If so were these ethical outriggers at least apparent, allowing the viewer some help in evaluating and understanding his film?
In this sense the film pivots about Lorentzen as much as the Ochea family. But of course whereas we are allowed see something of the Ocheas, we have no basis for evaluating the grounds on which Lorentzen either shot or selected his footage in the edit. We see something of the family Ochea but we see nothing of the director writer editor cameraman. Lorentzen who is making all the decisions is hidden from us. He is absent; but his presence and manipulations are everywhere. Without some insight into intention, Lorentzen’s movie is morally vacuous.
Lorentzen’s response might be along the lines that he has no need of collaborators to balance and affect his decision making, that the film he has shot tells the story of a failed and failing emergency intervention service.
The question arises: is it enough for Lorentzen to shoot a lot of raw looking digital footage, structure and shape the material then edit it and then make any sort of claim for the film. What sort of claim? Well no claims are specifically made. Perhaps Lorentzen believes it is enough just to cobble together his material as a spectacle and put it out on the fashionable international doc circuit as a sort of Kantian Thing in Itself, exploiting a certain market appetite for salacious shocking situations. In Midnight Family things are revealed such as the inadequacy of Mexico City’s emergency ambulance service (which seems unlikely to come as a surprise to the people of that City); the equivocal nature of the Ochea family in relation to their enterprise, sandwiched between saving lives and saving themselves from poverty.
Midnight family purports to show the surface of the Mexico City Private Ambulance business. But it is difficult to take on trust the surface when we are barred from seeing the underlying forces that give shape to what we see. And of course these underlying forces comprise mainly the socio-economic situation in Mexico but also the decisions made by Lorentzen. Was all his footage actual or was some specifically shot to be edited into the final cut? In the film’s penultimate sequence, was the woman in the front seat of the ambulance the mother of the victim who was dying in the back of the vehicle? What sort of relationship did the Ocheas have with the director/ writer? What was the nature of the agreement made with the Ocheas by the director? Without indications of what is going on my feeling is that this is a film corrupted by absence of information.
Lorentzen’s film follows the hallowed path of many a doc feature: there is material only to sustain a 60 minute movie; so it has to be stretched to get close to the 90 min feature mark. The stretching involves repetition and regurgitation of the same material in slightly different contexts. Midnight Family is seriously over long as well as short on justification.