Laura CliffordAnybody old enough to remember 1972 could never forget the tragedy that befell the Uruguayan national soccer team when their plane, carrying 45 passengers, crashed on the jagged, snow-covered Andes mountains while en rout to a match in Chile. The tale of the survival of 16 of them over 72 brutal days is remembered most, though, when the survivors told their tale which included the necessity to eat their dead comrades in order to stay alive. First-time documentary feature filmmaker Gonzalo Arijon brings the real story of fortunate/unfortunate survivors in "Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains."
The harrowing tale of survival, which brought those left alive to make the gut-wrenching decision to eat their deceased friends or die, has been told at least a couple of times on film. The first, "Survive (1976)" gave an honest account of the terrible ordeal, then, in 1993, came the sensationalized :Alive.: Both were interpretations that gave reasonable credence to the terrible true story. Gonzolo Arijon takes this story up a notch or two with his non-fiction "Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains."
"Stranded" is structured much the same as another traumatic stuck-atop-a-mountain docudrama, "Touching the Void." Both use talking head interviews with the survivors combined with staged recreations of the ordeals. The earlier doc used this to fair effect but Arijon makes it his own. He builds his film with care as he recreates the heady day as the team climb into the plane, most for the first time in their lives, for their journey to Chile. Things are high-spirited and jovial as the players goof around and enjoy their adventure. Then, things go horribly wrong and they crash in a forbidding place called the 'Valley of Tears.'
Arijon deftly combines the eyewitness accounts of the survivors, archive photos (very few but powerfully used), recreations of the events of the time and the 2006 trek by the survivors to return to the site of the crash. He fashions this with the start-to-finish telling of their story via interviews, reflections and remembrances of those who were there and those left at home to ponder the fate of their loved ones on the downed plane.
This has been another year for solid, thought-provoking documentary films. I thought that Werner Herzog's funny, interesting and varied journey to Antarctica, :Encounters at the End of the World," would easily stay my number one docu pick. That is, until I watched "Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains." I have a new frontrunner, now, and encourage anyone who appreciates a fascinating, exciting and well-told true story to see this film. Even if you think you know everything about this terrible tale, you will find new information that will evoke your empathy. I give it an A.
Gonzalo Arijon, a childhood friend of the survivors, comes from an obviously more personal point of view than this story has been given before and his juxtaposition of current day survivors telling their tales, some at the crash site, with recreations processed to look like old footage gives a real feeling of being there. There is a lot more to this story than the cannibalism aspect, such as how that story was fed to and interpreted to the media after the fact. An avalanche which cost six lives led many of the survivors to experience near death and to a man they describe it as a place they wanted to go. "Stranded" may be the ultimate tale of survival, but Arijon's film is distinctly spiritual. A
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