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Film: Society of the Snow
Cast : Rafael Federman, Esteban Bigliardi, Simon Hempe, Agustín Pardella, Enzo Vogrincic, Alfonsina Carrocio, Fernando Contingiani, Juan Diego Eirea, Esteban Kukuriczka, Paula Baldini, Matías Recalt, Emanuel Parga, Tomas Wolf, Valentino Alonso, Diego Vegezzi
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Rating: 4/5
Runtime: 144 mins
 

The story of the 1972 crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 in the Andes Mountains, has been featured before in the controversial Ethan Hawke starrer ‘Alive.’ But this JA Bayona-directed version is the authentic deal and a prime candidate for a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination. Cinema on real-life disasters such as this one cannot get more brutal and blistering than this, surely? 
 
This cinematic vision is based on journalist Pablo Vierci`s book and script of the event and is a gritty, harrowing and incredibly miraculous death-defying tale of survival and strength of the human spirit amidst the most inhospitable, extreme conditions. Just imagine a world where you are among several wounded, there’s nothing palatable to eat, enveloped in snow as you are and there’s no hope of any search and rescue missions spotting you.
 
After the crunching and skidding of metal and snow and the crying, shouting and wailing of 29 survivors, we experience utter silence. Cinematographer Pedro Luque, shifts the camera wide to focus on the quiet beauty and perilous dips and ebbs of the snow-covered Andes. But the beauty is lost on the survivors. 
 
Bayona begins the narrative with a Rugby match and goes on to introduce each of his principal characters. We get brief snippets of each passenger’s life back home. Numa (Enzo Vogrincic) takes the lead. It’s largely his account of the aftermath that we are made privy to. Numa, his best friend Nando (Agustín Pardella) and intrepid med student Roberto (Matías Recalt) are the principal characters here.
 
Conditions worsen, they have to battle through several snow storms, avalanches and cold so bone-deep that it is impossible for humans to survive. The lack of food leads the survivors to eat whatever flesh is available, and Bayona leaves much of that depiction to our imagination. He does bring in moral reasoning in the discussion as to whether they should die hungry or do everything to survive till help arrives. For the ‘believers,’ it’s a catch-22 situation. 
 
Despite its longish runtime, Society of the Snow feels fluid and brisk. You feel so gripped by the events on screen that you just can’t take your eyes off it for even a moment. There’s no monotony despite the setting being the same patch of icy land surrounding the crash site. Michael Giacchino’s subliminal score is highly effective in keeping you involved. Bayona envisages the human will to survive in all its resilience in such detail that it`s totally compelling. 
 
You’ve got to see `Society of the Snow’ to really understand the extent of the suffering, the 45 passengers, most of them in their early twenties, members of the Old Christians Rugby team, had to experience. It was supposed to be their last-fling, adventurous flight to Chile, before they all settled down to individual careers and separate lives. But what they got instead was a crash landing high up in the snow-topped Andes with no sight of a rescue for 72 days running.  
 
The sequence of the crash is unlike what we’ve seen in the aviation disaster movies of yore. The audience is privy to the violent savagery of the gravitational forces combined with the acute cold and the wind that billets the plane and pulls it down. Inside the plane, you can see the passengers being tossed and overturned as the aluminium and steel body of the aircraft gives way under the intense pressure made to bear on it. 
 
Bayona is a past master at capturing nature`s fury in grave detail. He did it so convincingly in ‘The Impossible’ and he does it brilliantly here too. There’s no romanticising it here. It’s so viscerally compelling that you even begin to feel the bleak and acute despair of the survivors. As an audience, you become one with the vast chasm of hopelessness the survivors experienced. Unlike ‘Alive,’ Bayona does not reduce the harrowing tale of survival to something so basic as cannibalism. He makes the desperation show up so brutally that even that inhuman act seems acceptable when it has to do with human survival. Bayona’s telling of this story is so sharp that it cuts a deep swathe right into our hearts!



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