Society Of The Snow


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Society Of The Snow
"The impact of the plane crash near the start of this retelling of the remarkable true survival story is shown in visceral detail with a sound design that slams right through you."

It's ironic that one of the best moments of collective cinema watching this year should come near the start of JA Bayona's Society Of The Snow which is destined for the more solitary-watching confines of Netflix. The impact of the plane crash near the start of this retelling of the remarkable true survival story is shown in visceral detail with a sound design that slams right through you.

Bayona proved he had what it takes for recreating disasters in his tsunami-driven The Impossible and he shows he's lost none of his touch. Part of the plane is ripped off and passengers ripped shockingly out with it. Inside, the seats concertina, killing several of the passengers on impact, while the camera lingers fractionally on a number of horrors as they unfold. The result in the packed cinema where I saw it at San Sebastian Film Festival was to leave the audience virtually vibrating from the impact of it themselves. A shame then, that it is most likely to be watched alone on sofas or laptops.

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That is just the beginning of his film about the tragedy and, one might say, miracle that befell the Uruguayan Old Christians rugby union team as they flew from their homeland towards Santiago in Chile, with their plane slamming into the Andes en route. Bayona mixes this sort of shock incident with more measured drama to show what happened next. Although there is a part-time narrator, Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), this is firmly an ensemble piece. Other key figures are the team's strongest runner Roberto (Matías Recalt) and Nando (Agustín Pardella), who is badly injured in the crash. The fact there are no big names in the cast of stars - all speaking Spanish - also serves to help the balance of a film that is all about the power of collectivity and pulling together in adversity.

If the story itself sounds familiar, it's because the fact that the survivors faced a stark choice between starvation and eating the bodies of their dead compatriots made waves during the decade that followed the crash. The tale has also been the basis of two other films - Survive! and Alive. Of the 45 passengers and three crew on the plane when it set off, remarkably, 16 survived for more than two months in the icy wilderness. Bayona tells that remarkable story, which comes down to a whole lot more than the moral choice they faced over food. He explores the resilience of these, mostly young, people, as they didn´t just sit around hoping for rescue but actively undertook expeditions in an attempt to get home alive. The youth of the group is also brought home by the fact that half of them don't even grow much of a beard despite being stranded.

Bayona puts us there, cleverly measuring the pace so that to start with we feel the length of the days and nights as the survivors try to avoid freezing and starving to death. Once we´ve fallen into his rhythm things speed up and are punctuated by further tragic incidents. With few distractions, the acting has a distilled power that draws attention to the sacrifices big and small members of this forced community were making for one another. Those who died are fully registered by this film, not just in the way that Bayona and his co-writers Nicolás Casariego, Jaime Marques and Bernat Vilaplana (adapting from Pablo Vierci´s book) represent them but by intertitles that also note their passing. Excellent make-up and hair make the cold virtually drip from the screen, while little details - like black pee puddling on snow - bring home the horror. Gripping and rippling with tension, Bayona, who has previously been a bit of a sucker for melodrama, this time wisely holds back more making this a fascinating examination of a true story that simultaneously pays tribute to those who lived - and, indeed didn´t live - through it. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen don't miss it.

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2023
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Survival thriller taking place in the aftermath of a plane crash in the Andes.

Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Writer: Juan Antonio Bayona, Nicolás Casariego, Jaime Marques, Pablo Vierci, Bernat Vilaplana

Starring: 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

Year: 2023

Runtime: 144 minutes

Country: Uruguay, Spain

Streaming on: Netflix

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