Society of the Snow

In his opening remarks, Roger Ebert praised the 1993 movie “Alive” and said, “Some stories are just not meant to be told. Perhaps one of them is the tale of the Andes survivors.” He might have been correct. Stories about the October 13, 1972, crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in the Andes mountains have been told time and time again, with differing degrees of success—though what constitutes “success” is open to opinion. The most recent release is “Society of the Snow” by J.A. Bayona, which is an adaptation of Pablo Vierci’s 2009 novel. The required reading is Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, written by Piers Paul Read in 1974. Many of the errors in previous iterations (especially in Frank Marshall’s 1993 film) are omitted from Bayona’s production.

This still holds true to Ebert’s warning. In this story, there’s something that’s difficult to translate.

Even just the facts are awful. Since a mountain effectively cut the plane in half, the majority of the occupants perished instantly. The search was canceled after a couple of days. Cannibalism was the only option left to the famished survivors. At one point, an avalanche smothered them. Two young players from the rugby team on board eventually headed west in an attempt to reach Chile as the weather started to thaw. Both their climbing experience and gear were nonexistent. The two, in defiance of all chances, survived and managed to direct rescue helicopters back to the downed aircraft.

Lifted out alive were sixteen people. International news was generated by the story. The reportage quickly took on a sensationalistic and possibly lurid tone due to the cannibalism element. Because they had broken the taboo, many of the survivors felt ashamed.

In Bayona’s picture, character development is handled quite quickly. A group of rugby players who are eager to travel to Chile for a match are introduced to us. Not many of them have ever left their homes. The movie is told from the perspective of Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), a young man who was persuaded to go on the journey by his friend. Though not the main character, Numa offers some commentary.

The lead is the group. It’s challenging to maintain character consistency, and different personalities only surface once calamity occurs (perhaps a true representation of how calamity doesn’t transform a person but instead exposes their true nature). The wall of the mountain rears up outside the plane windows like a terrible thing, as it actually was, and Bayona recreates the crash in a terrifying manner. The cinematography of Pedro Luque is breathtaking in the most traditional meaning of the word. There are impossibly large mountains, unending white expanses of snow, and tiny humans that are hardly visible to the unaided eye making their way through the drifts. Though tragedy looms over every picture, the stunning mountain cinematography from last year’s “The Eight Mountains” is just as striking.

Luque acknowledges the foreboding nature of the terrain and says, “Humans cannot survive here.” Here, nothing can endure.”

The film directed by Frank Marshall placed a strong emphasis on the story’s quasi-religious elements, using cannibalism as a form of Communion—a crucial rationale for the survivors, who were primarily Catholic—and included numerous practically “inspirational” scenes. There were power battles in “Alive” as well, with some of the marooned rebelling against any strong leadership. “Society of the Snow” chooses not to take that turn. The method is significantly more fascinating. A leader does come to the fore in the days that follow the accident. In addition to giving pep talks and encouraging passengers to have faith, he is in charge of emptying the plane and searching through baggage for food.

During the first chaotic phase, someone like this has to be in charge. However, as the days bleed into weeks, “having faith” will not last. His collapse leaves two other lads, Robertto (Matías Recalt) and Nando (Agustín Pardella), with the difficult mission of attempting to fix the plane’s radio. When that fails, they head into the mountains, hopefully towards Chile.

Like in previous iterations of this tale, the days are identified on screen, and the deceased are memorialized there. The fact that we never had the opportunity to truly meet them in the first place is a contributing factor to the larger issue that Roger Ebert first raised in 1993, even though it’s nice to see the genuine names. Something about this catastrophe defies analysis or comprehension.

While “Society of the Snow” doesn’t directly address any of these issues, Bayona’s method gives these moral and philosophical considerations room to grow.

now available on Netflix.

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