(director/writer: Luke Lorentzen; cinematographer: Luke Lorentzen; editor: Luke Lorentzen; music: Los Shajatos; cast: Juan Ochoa, Fernando Ochoa, Josué Ochoa, Manuel Hernández; Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kellen Quinn, Luke Lorentzen, Daniela Alatorre, Elena Fortes; Hedgehog; 2019-Mexico-Spanish with English subtitles)
“It’s a disheartening look at such a backward ambulance system, but it makes for an exciting film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A fly-on-the-wall cinema verité documentary about a Mexico City family, the Ochoa family, trying to eke out a living by running a private ambulance service in the city’s wealthiest areas. The engrossing drama is directed and filmed by the based in San Francisco filmmaker Luke Lorentzen (“New York Cuts”).
It’s hard to fathom that fewer than 45 public ambulances serve a population of 9 million in Mexico City. But the private services are numerous as they pick up the slack in a cutthroat industry, whereby the private services are not guaranteed payment–which is why they have trouble staying afloat. The picture painted is of an urgent institutional crisis in the city health services, one that’s greater than any ambulance service problem in the States.
The medically unstable Fer is the nominal head of the Ochoa household, but it’s his 17-year-old son Juan who is really the family’s leader. The family youngster Josué is a teen school truant, who would rather ride on the ambulance than get an education. Each night is spent by the family waiting for a call in the ambulance. When a call comes through, they must race through the big city’s busy streets and try to beat rival EMT services to the scene. At the scene, they strap the wounded into stretchers and load them into the back of their van. At the end of the ride, at the hospital, they must haggle with the patient for payment, and are often rejected because the patient is either too poor or unwilling to pay. To make matters worse, the corrupt police often serve them citations for fines as harassment or to shake them down for bribes.
In one memorable ambulance call, the ambulance travels at high speed to get a teenage girl to the hospital in time. She fell down the stairs and has a traumatic brain injury. They use their loudspeakers to clear traffic and the girl’s frightened mother sits up front with the men, but the girl doesn’t survive despite the driver’s best efforts. Then they must awkwardly ask her mom to pay the bill.
It’s a disheartening look at such a backward ambulance system, but it makes for an exciting film. But the Lorentzen film is just an observational one and offers no critiques on such a dastardly and corrupt system.
REVIEWED ON 12/13/2019 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/