Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains

"Excellent"

Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains Review


If the tale of real-life human endurance is a genre, this account of a disaster on the remote reaches of a mountain where survival and morality are put to the most grueling tests imaginable belongs squarely in it. It recalls Touching the Void, a gripping tale of rescue and escape from death told by mountain climbers who sit before the cameras and relate a harrowing nightmare as living proof of having cheated death by means damn near unbelievable.

With a similar sense of incredulity, Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains relates how part of a traveling rugby team of teenage athletes and a few of their relatives survived an airplane crash on a remote Andean glacier at the height of winter -- and kept breathing for an unbelievable 72 days. Sixteen of the 45 passengers returned, and here tell of the events from their own points of view. We hear of the particular anguish and fears each went through as we watch archival footage and reenactments that lay bare human capabilities of physical and mental adaptation under gruesome odds. The result is as much a testament to documentary filmmaker Gonzalo Arijon's novelistic story structure as it is to the basic instinct of self-preservation.

Starting with the joy of anticipation on the team's day of departure from Santiago, Arijon moves his story to the youthful exuberance on the Uruguayan Air Force plane in the early part of the journey en route to play a match in Montevideo. This turns into sudden fear and dread as their craft enters unstable weather over remote, snow-covered mountains. And, finally, they experience the horror of a crash landing when the engines aren't powerful enough to ascend over an upcoming peak. But the landing isn't a finality. A chilling new story now begins.

The fact of having withstood hunger and crippling weather for so long in a place named the "Valley of Tears" -- well after the plane's store of food had been exhausted -- marks a measure of what lengths humans will go to when facing their mortality. The will to live, it shows, is a mighty force that can put normality and universal codes of moral conduct into an entirely unfamiliar frame of reference.

Taboos must fall, even to the point of cannibalism, when the trump card in the game of life must be played. The film does great justice to the individuality of each person's wrestling with the unspeakable. The struggles with conscience are excruciating, and they're telling on the aged narrators who relate their ultimate decisions as best they can from having lived with the memories and the effect it has had on them for 35 years.

In 1973 the event was turned into Alive, a non-fiction bestseller. Later, in 1993, a movie based on the book, starring Ethan Hawke, was released. But director Arijon, a childhood friend of the survivors who, after all, were all his homies, didn't think the account was complete. With the benefit of still-vivid memories, he presents the fateful events partly by submitting his reenactment cast to some of the same tortuous conditions in order to fully capture the entirety of the event. One of the main points the survivors make (which justifies the film) is their agreement that ultimate rescue was the work of sustained unity. Therein lies what some would call a miracle. Teamwork wins.

The subtitle is a quote of the first words spoken to local people at the base of the mountain range when two of the survivors completed a last ditch effort to reach civilization and help. That foot journey across the glacier was the group's final hope, and another true feat of endurance against brutal weather and terrain.

Despite Arijon's excellent crafting, two hours and two minutes (and minus 12° Fahrenheit) is a bit overlong and prone to frostbite in the empathy region of the brain. However, despite a slight numbing of interest some audiences might feel, the nearly hour-long extra, The Making of Stranded, is a worthy compensation by way of answering the reenactment questions that the film raises.

Aka Naufragés des Andes, Stranded: I've Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains, Stranded.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Gonzalo Arijon

Producer: Hilary Sandison, Marc Silvera

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