Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
In October 13, 1972, a plane, carrying forty-five people, traveling from Uruguay to Chile crashed in the Andes. Sixteen died from the impact and those who lived waited at the crash site to be rescued. Several days passed but no rescue team arrived. Helicopters would pass above but they were not seen. After several weeks, suspecting that the outside world had given up the search, the remaining survivors took it upon themselves to find a person or a group people that could help lead to their rescue.
What makes “Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains,” directed by Gonzalo Arijón’s, quite worthwhile are the interviews with the survivors, back then in their early- to mid-twenties and now in their fifties. Hearing what they had gone through first-hand allows us to feel the horror and desperation of their ordeal. Their story, however, is weakened by the reenactments. Such are often in slow motion, blurry, and at times coming across disingenuous. With such an incredible human story, any form of imitation feels cheap.
Early in the film, a survivor expresses a feeling that perhaps there was a dark force that intended to put them together. Most of the passengers were young, privileged student-athletes attending Catholic school. He gives the impression that maybe it was a trial of their faith. One of the biggest problems they had to face eventually was the lack of food. They had to result to eating the flesh of their dead for survival.
Frank Marshall’s “Alive” was one of the first American films I remember watching as a child. Each time it aired on HBO, I just had to watch it. Though I did not understand the language, I was fascinated with the idea of human beings eating the dead—their friends, family, acquaintances—to save themselves from starvation. Through the years, I knew that the film did the story justice because not once did I feel scared or disgusted with what the characters had to do—what many consider to be taboo. I saw the situation through a philosophical and spiritual lens.
The director makes a good decision to give the topic of cannibalism enough time to be acknowledged and discussed but it moves on from it. While interesting and important, it remains one of the many experiences that the survivors had gone through. Others include removing corpses from the plane and assigning them a spot, considering how food should be rationed and who was in charge, and deciding the best time to send someone to find help because people from the outside world figured they were dead.
Reenactments are unnecessary. Since the men are in front of the camera, their faces, words, and emotions tell it all. I would rather have seen more photographs taken before, during, and after the ordeal. Real footages after their rescue make a big impact, too. We get a glimpse at some of their bodies after they were interviewed by reporters and on the process of being taken to get medical attention. With no proper nourishment for over two months, subsisting on one piece of square chocolate and one cap of liquor, it makes sense—and yet it remains shocking—that they had lost so much body weight.
In the summer of 2006, a few survivors, their children, and grandchildren visit the crash site. These are lodged in between interviews and recollections. There is a sadness that commemorates those who did not make it through. And with those who did, there is a sense of relief and appreciation for a second chance at life.