Sunday, September 11, 2011

Stranded (2007)

United in the Andes

Native Uruguayan director Gonzalo Arijon, who later located to France, was friends with some of the survivors from the 1972 Andes plane crash where only 16 came back alive and many others were lost over the course of 72 grueling days. With his "Stranded" documentary celebrating 35 years since the devastation turned miracle for some, he's capable of getting the survivors to open up--in their mother tongue of Spanish with subtitles--much more than on past documentaries. However, even this many years later, they still get choked up when talking about certain people or scenarios. Each of them gives their own varied interpretations, yet compared to "Alive: 20 Years Later" from 1993 it follows a more gradual flow along with a time line to keep it focused and capable of growing from the outset with a viewer latched on to each word and picture of their harrowing story.

This moves fairly steadily at first before the passengers make it to the plane as if it's just another day, despite the superstitious date of Friday the 13th, in October no less. As it progresses, it cuts to longer shots to get a contemplative grasp as well as a down and close perspective of the situation and time period of the early '70s in the surrounding region of South America. There are some current still shots with individual survivors, brief past reenactments and various shots of them with friends and family today. Some of them return to the area of the site and see it differently now from an older set of eyes, yet can still recall exactly what they felt at a particular moment like it's seared into their head. This begins with various points of views before even getting on the plane, from one feeling like something was going to happen, to another thinking everybody looked their happiest. They speak about those that didn't make it as if it was only yesterday in either what they were doing prior to the crash or what they had planned when thought to arriving in Chile. It gives a look at their moment-by-moment thought processes and how they struggled to react to it all and attempt to grasp exactly what's going to happen next. Some kept to themselves, while others jumped in to help as if by second nature. However, as it moved along, they eventually viewed themselves as a sort of "new society" that had to do unfamiliar things that they wouldn't have done before, along with the fuselage feeling like their home away from home, partly because with failing health they had no strength, never mind stepping out to use the facilities or to leave.

They went through a varied range of emotions from the outset, as each day they didn't know if it was their last. They got to the point where they accepted death and realized it would have been an easier way out. There were some black and white pictures taken during the ordeal where some smiles are on their faces despite. Out of boredom, there were even some bets and verbal guesses on who would die first. Some pushed away feelings to go on with determination, while others gave up and it lead to their deterioration. It seemed like everyday was different, with some having strength at one point and at another losing hope, but so long as they had a support system to stay united they could carry on. Today some have guilt about why they made it and others didn't, as it was completely random as to what happened to whom. Their outlooks after the fact can be somewhat philosophical and give something deeper to learn from watching this. Then, on the other hand, this can be candid at times, from including more details about the cannibalism portion of their survival, to even mentioning that they made powder out of the bones for calcium because they were low on essential vitamins and nutrients. They speak of having to hit and pound on each other to improve circulation or else the cold could consume them, or having to rotate or stack themselves for warmth.

Some things are included that weren't shown in the "Alive" film, such as the search effort from the surrounding countries and parents that wouldn't give up, as well as the factors of why it didn't work. A few aspects also differed, such as one of the other people mentioning eating the dead first, as well as a few people at once eating a small amount at the same time. After the avalanche they also had to eat their friends around them that just died since the other bodies were outside. In my own personal view, I feel the avalanche stands out as one of the worst of the scenarios, since they were already down and struggling and yet another accident took more people that initially survived the crash, weather and hunger before that. Though it's interesting that a few describe their near suffocation almost serenely, which I would have guessed would have made me feel trapped and helpless, but then coming to might be more hellish than those few moments of pain till the beyond.

From a filmmakers stand point, "Stranded" is capable of changing up into different modes, locations and interviews with ample time to get an overall feel of what happened without skimping or glazing over important areas. It's not grand on past reenactments, but, then again, it gives you a visual for context and leaves the cinematic experience for the movies "Supervivientes de los Andes/Survive!" and "Alive." This concentrated on bonds and emotions, rather than being flashy or coming with a filmmaker's signature. This was emotionally capable without being overly manipulative--bar slow pianos and extended strings--or even having to show the people break down on camera to get the message through. It puts the harsh realities into their place without always holding back, though still with respect to the other families and their friends, as a share live in the same area and word gets around for those that are trying to forget. This shows that they got bombarded with news stories--some sensational, some compassionate.

"Stranded" portrayed what took away their hope and also what gave them strength, such as their families back home, present friends and faith to give them a crutch to go on. There's something to learn here despite their circumstances being a special case that would more than likely never be repeated again. This was documentation at its finest, and stands as the definitive audio and visual experience of the Andes crash in 1972 at this point, even over both movies, which serve mainly as mere introduction pieces compared to the amount of information here.

Rating: 10/10

Director: Gonzalo Arijon
Link: IMDB

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