Judge Roy Hrab salutes the survivors and victims of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571.
Our review of Stranded, published July 5th, 2002, is also available.
"I've come from a plane that crashed in the mountains."
On October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, bound for Chile, crashed in the snow laden Andes. The plane carried 45 people, predominately comprised of an Uruguayan student rugby team. The crash left 27 passengers alive. An avalanche killed an additional 8 people on October 29. Authorities dispatched search parties to find the wreckage, but gave up quickly, believing survival to be impossible. They were wrong. However, the survivors had little food and eventually resorted to eating the dead to stay alive. By the end of the nightmare, on December 23, 1971, after an astounding 72 days of living in a world of snow and sub-zero temperatures, 16 had survived. The story was made into the film Alive (adapted from the book of the same name) in 1993, starring Ethan Hawke.
Stranded is a documentary about the Andes crash as told by the survivors. It's a refreshingly unbiased film, atypical of many recent documentaries that sensationalize their chosen subject matter. Documentary film directors now typically inserts themselves into their story as an active commentator or make themselves the star of the film; for example, films by Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) and Morgan Spurlock (Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?) are as much, if not more, about them as the source material. In fact, sometimes it seems that the purpose of documentary is to promote the creator rather than any genuine interest in the topic under consideration.
Thankfully, neither Moore nor Spurlock made Stranded. As a result, the film suffers none of their excesses. In fact, Director Gonzalo Arijón never appears on screen or sticks a microphone in his subjects' faces. His voice isn't even heard off-camera. He has no purpose other than putting the survivors in front of the camera to tell their stories: the facts about the crash; how they felt about losing friends and family; the decision to eat the dead; faith lost and regained; and, how they feel now. The alleged "cannibalism" is not dwelled upon, but explained clearly by the participants for what was: an act of pure survival, taken with a heavy heart after much soul searching and carried out in a communion-like ceremony (all of the men were, and remain, devoted Catholics).
The story is revealed through a mixture of the survivors talking directly to the camera or to family members at the crash site, re-enactments of events, still photos taken by the survivors, press photos, and some television footage of the survivors following rescue. There's no attempt to manipulate emotions through overly melodramatic music.
The anamorphic transfer is great. Some of the newsreel footage is not in mint shape and the re-enactments are intentionally a little grainy, but the interview footage is crystal clear. The stereo sound is without flaw, although it's entirely in Spanish. There doesn't appear to be any apparent problem with the English subtitles.
There are a couple of extras on the disc. The major one is an almost hour-long "Making of" documentary that has some behind the scenes footage and, more importantly, additional interview footage with the survivors that didn't make into the film. There is a rather moving revelation at the end of the documentary when one of the survivors tells of never having flown again following the crash. The other extra is the theatrical trailer. Additionally, the DVD case states that a "Director's note" is included, I assume it is an insert in the case, but it was not included with my review copy.
Stranded is a superb documentary about an unsettling and awe-inspiring story of survival. Moreover, it highlights the ability of humans to endure extreme suffering without descending into depravity. It's both inspiring and thought provoking.
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