Society of the Snow Review The Stranded and the Faithful

“Society of the Snow” Review: The Stranded and the Faithful – The New York Times

Filmmakers love survival stories, but there are aspects of the so-called “Miracle in the Andes” that pose particular difficulties for any film, not least because half a century later the most infamous turn of events will be known to most viewers going in.

On October 13, 1972, a Uruguayan plane en route to Santiago, Chile, with 45 people on board, including the Old Christians rugby team, crashed in the Andes. In a rescue operation ten weeks later, 16 people survived. They did this through a mixture of ingenuity, perseverance, faith and, famously, the decision—in a snowy, mountainous environment with no food—to eat the dead. Roberto Canessa, a survivor who became a distinguished pediatric cardiologist and long-term 1994 presidential candidate in Uruguay, told National Geographic that “anthropophagy” was a better word for what happened than “cannibalism,” which means killing people for consumption could.

The Spanish-language “Society of the Snow,” directed by JA Bayona (“The Orphanage”), mixes footage from the Andes with locations in Spain's Sierra Nevada and has a credibility missing from the 1993 film “Alive.” The quintessentially American cast is led by Ethan Hawke, who predates Reality Bites and sports a magazine-ready hairdo. But “Society of the Snow,” based on a book by Pablo Vierci, lacks the immediacy that comes from seeing the real survivors, a spectacle that the documentary “Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains” (2008).

For an action veteran like Bayona, crashing is the easy part. The foreshadowing is relentless and unnecessary. “This could be our last trip together,” Pancho Delgado (Valentino Alonso) tells Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), a passenger who narrates the film (and whose fate the film reserves for one of its cheaper tricks), in the early Montevideo scenes. ). During the flight, a newspaper headline alerts viewers to a boat that sank off the coast of Montevideo. The young men discuss how dangerous it is to fly through the Andes because of the suction created by the warm winds from Argentina and the cold mountain air.

The plane accident is shockingly haunting. Snow, debris and wind swirl through the open hull. Rows of seats collapse like accordions, impaling some passengers. The soundtrack is a hum of rattling metal. After the wreckage comes to a stop, Bayona films the first moments in confusing close-ups as the characters struggle to reconstruct what happened and the geometry of their whereabouts.

The long haul turns out to be more difficult from a dramatic perspective. “The problem is that no film can truly capture the sheer magnitude of the experience,” Roger Ebert wrote of “Alive” 31 years ago, and that remains true today. In the cinema, the picture and sound are good, but hunger, cold and duration are less effective, at least when the duration is measured in days and weeks.

Then there's the question of how graphic this film should be; In this regard, “Society of the Snow” remains coy, even though at least one ribcage is visibly torn to the bone. No version of this story has portrayed the survivors' decision to eat human flesh as hasty or careless. Once this decision is made, this time three men do the slaughtering without the others seeing. But when an avalanche hits the group and kills some of them, it suddenly becomes impossible to eat meat without names and faces, Numa says in a voiceover. Bayona then shows Roberto (Matías Recalt) cutting into seemingly non-anonymous flesh – but tactfully keeping anything identifiable about the corpse out of the picture.

The material is fundamentally compelling and parts are hard to resist, including the first sighting of another person by Nando Parrado (Agustín Pardella) and Roberto after the two have spent days climbing their way to civilization. But “Society of the Snow” is a perverse movie if you watch it the way most people will see it – on Netflix, in the comfort of your own home, with a fridge nearby.

Society of Snow
Rated R. terror and loneliness; Anthropophagy. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 24 minutes. Watch on Netflix.