¨We had to do things that I don´t think any animal is capable of doing.¨
In 1972 a group of Uruguayan rugby players were on their way to Chile for an international match when the plane crashed in the middle of the Andes. Several passengers survived the horrific crash, but the worst was still to come because they were left stranded in the middle of a vast white mountain chain with ho help in sight. After more than 70 days in the mountains, sixteen passengers managed to survive. We´ve heard the story before; they even made a film in 1993 starring Ethan Hawke inspired on these true events. What is unique about this documentary is that for the first time in 30 years the 16 survivors got together to travel back to where the horrific events took place and they share their story accompanied by some family members who wouldn’t have been alive today if they hadn’t survived that terrible experience. The survivors share their testimony beginning from the anticipation many of them had before leaving Montevideo as it was for some their first international flight, continuing to how horrible the crash was and the experience of losing family members and friends, and finally sharing their struggle for survival in this unknown territory. They hold no bars, they speak about how they had to eat the dead bodies of their friends in order to survive, and even convert that terrible experience of cannibalism into a spiritual journey. Finally the documentary ends with the climactic expedition two passengers decide to make in order to find help. This is a tale of survival like you haven’t seen before and one worth experiencing.
The title is much longer than the original one, La Sociedad de la Nieve (Society of the Snow), but in a way it does hook and captivate your attention. The documentary is based on the Uruguayan bestselling novel in which the 16 survivors share their unique experiences through that terrible ordeal. The documentary may not have great technical visuals, but it is worth watching for the testimonies alone. There is one scene where one of the survivors is talking about how difficult it was for them to eat human flesh, while he is eating some snacks during the interview in the same spot where they had crashed 30 years ago. These men knew that they had no other way to survive and feel no remorse for what they have done because they know it was the right decision. They not only justified their actions, but some even managed to make it a spiritual one by comparing it with Jesus´ last supper. The interviews alone are what make this film worth watching because there are very few original photos or reenactments. It is all about this group of friends and how they managed to survive sticking together. The film doesn’t focus so much on the deaths or the cannibalism; it doesn’t try to be sensationalistic, it is more about the human spirit and the struggle for survival. I felt like it touched a lot more on human emotions rather than on trying to make a circus of the entire situation like the press did 30 years ago. The final 30 minutes are completely gripping and fascinating. This is one of those rare documentaries that will stick with you for a long time.
Stranded was directed by Gonzalo Arijon with a very humanistic approach. This could have been such a tasteless film, but he really gets to the heart of the matter and gives each one of the survivors time to share their point of views and testimonies. This film won several awards and was even nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, but unfortunately it was competing against Man on Wire, the documentary that won pretty much every prize that year including the Oscar. I might be biased, but I really enjoyed this one much more. I was fascinated by the story despite knowing all about it. I simply loved the way the entire project was approached and how well the retelling of the story was done. This is a remarkable and emotional documentary, one you won´t want to miss. The testimonies of what happened during the avalanche and the near death experience was probably the highlight of the film for me. It was truly shocking and gripping.