by Mel Valentin
SCREENED AT THE 2008 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: On October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 left Montevideo, Uruguay for Santiago, Chile. The passengers, students and alumni from the Stella Maris College, and their coaches, friends, and family, were on their way to Chile for a friendly rugby match. Hours later, Flight 571 crashed in the Andes Cordillera on the Chilean side of the border. Out of the forty passengers and five crewmembers aboard Flight 571, twenty-nine initially survived the crash. Of that twenty-nine, five were injured and soon perished. Another eight lost their lives when an avalanche left the survivors living in the remains of the fuselage buried in snow. After ten days, the survivors did the unthinkable and turned to cannibalism. Seventy-two days after Flight 571 crashed, two emaciated survivors, Roberto Canessa and Nando Parrado, emerged from the Andean mountains.The story of the survivors of Flight 571 has been the subject of several books, two fictionalized films, and now thirty-six years after the crash, an engrossing, compelling documentary by Gonzalo Arijón, Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains. Mixing interviews with the survivors with dramatic reconstructions of their 72-day ordeal shot by Cesar Charlone (The Constant Gardener, City of God) and black-and-white archival footage (mostly taken after their rescue), Stranded is a definitive and, at times, an exhaustive exploration of the subject. With a focus on the men and their eloquent, thoughtful testimony, Arijón, a childhood friend of some of the survivors, eschews the sensationalism that made Flight 571 and its aftermath garnered from the media and the general public.
"Thoughtful, thought-provoking documentary. One of the best of its kind."
For Stranded, Arijón managed to interview all sixteen survivors: José Pedro Algorta, Roberto Canessa, Alfredo "Pancho" Delgado, Daniel Fernández, Roberto “Bobby François, Roy Harley, José Luis "Coche" Inciarte, Álvaro Mangino, Javier Methol, Carlos “Carlitos” Páez, Nando Parrado, Ramon "Moncho" Sabella, Adolfo “Fito” Strauch, Eduardo Strauch, Antonio “Tintin” Vizíntin, and Gustavo Zerbino. With the exception of Javier Methol (he was 36 at the time of the crash), the survivors ranged in age from 19 to 25. None of the crewmembers or the women survived the crash or the 72-day ordeal. Of the survivors Arijón interviewed, several emerge as the most articulate and most insightful and unsurprisingly receive the most camera time, e.g., Roberto Canessa, Nando Parrado, Eduardo Strauch, and Roy Harley.
Arijón doesn’t end Stranded with the rescue of the survivors, but follows the immediate aftermath as well. Government officials, medical doctors, and members of the media each, in turn, called their survival a “miracle.” The unthinkable was unspeakable. But as rumors of cannibalism became fact, several of the survivors decided to hold a press conference, explaining, again eloquently the difficult moral choices involved. While all of the survivors were raised in the Roman Catholic faith and traditions, some turned away from religion and God and instead to look each other and their community for inner and outer strength. Others hewed closer to Catholicism. Some even turned to Jesus Christ and the Last Supper, the Holy Communion (i.e., the body and blood of Christ) made literal to justify their actions.Time and again, the survivors return to how they made it through the 72-day ordeal, not every man for himself, but every man for every other man. It was a philosophy that, surprisingly enough, put the survival of the group first and individuals second. While food rationing was necessary, no one broke or attempted to break the strict rules that governed rationing. Mutual need reinforced respect for mutually agreed upon rules. Survival in the harsh, unforgiving Andes depended on cooperation, not competition, on altruism, not selfishness. It’s indicative of how difficult their choices were and the general, long-term sympathy for those decisions from the general public and, more specifically, their friends, families, and acquaintances that, over time, their actions haven’t limited their life choices (i.e., all or most of the survivors are married, raised children, and enjoyed long careers as professionals).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16978&reviewer=402
originally posted: 05/15/08 13:00:00