Society of the Snow (La sociedad de la nieve) movie review: cold hard crash – Flick Filosopher

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Society of the Snow. That sounds nice. Sorta winter-cozy, like maybe it’s a twee Hallmark Christmas movie. But this is anything but. Here we have another retelling, after 1993’s Alive, of the real-life 1972 charted-plane flight from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Santiago, Chile, that ended in a horrific crash in the Andes Mountains, stranding the players of a young amateur rugby team, their friends and family, and the flight’s crew members high on a snowy, inaccessible glacier. They had no cold-weather gear, little food, no way of calling for help, and small chance of survival.
This is surely one of the greatest exploits in human endurance in recent memory, and Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, A Monster Calls) — who directs and cowrote the script with Bernat Vilaplana and Jaime Marques (Intruders) — renders it as a stark, haunting adventure of the spirit, viscerally terrifying and full of despair, and of the audacity it takes, in such a situation, to hope.
It’s tough to know how much of this story is spoilable, given the media circus that surrounded the actual event plus the big Hollywood production that was Alive. (That earlier film was a modest hit and continues to be revisited, not least because many of the members of its young cast went on to become big names, including Ethan Hawke and Illeana Douglas; Josh Lucas makes a brief appearance.) Then again, the plane crash was half a century ago, and even Alive is 30 years old… and is, in fact, closer to the events it depicts than it is to this new movie. It’s possible that some audience members may not be aware of the full story. So I shall be as circumspect as I can.
Perhaps it is that very passage of time that makes the harrowing reality of what the passengers faced on that glacier easier to tackle onscreen. For Society is far blunter about the difficult decisions the crash survivors had to make in order to endure long enough for any rescue to reach them. Alive didn’t exactly ignore those choices — it couldn’t have, given that they were a major crux of the tale — but it approached them warily and instead concentrated far more on the physically daring aspects. In this new film, the moral, ethical, and philosophical quandaries of what it takes to sustain oneself in body and soul in impossible conditions take center stage, and it makes for a cinematic experience that is in many ways profoundly spiritual, sometimes in a religious sense — the passengers were all devout Roman Catholics — but overall in a humanist way that even someone with no faith can be moved by.
Which isn’t to say that Bayona eschews the inevitable action of the plane crash: he depicts it with an immediacy that is traumatizing even for us watching; I know this will linger with me and come to mind next time I’m on a plane. And dangerous exploits are also an inescapable part of the story, as when survivors begin to survey their surroundings, climbing the nearby peaks to get a sense of just how remote a place they are stuck in. But Bayona plays all of this not for thrills but with a mounting sense of terror at the vastness of the Andes and the tininess of the lost passengers. When a climber looks back from his summit and registers that the white plane fuselage not far below him is utterly invisible against the snow, his anguish is palpable. How will they ever be found?
The decades since Alive have changed the levels of authenticity we expect from a film like this. It’s hard to imagine that this story told today could get away with casting American actors and having them speak dialogue in English, as the 1993 movie did. Indeed, Bayona’s hugely engaging cast is exclusively Uruguayan and Argentinian, most of them newcomers. The nominal protagonist, as much as there can be one in an ensemble piece, is Numa Turcatti, a passenger who wasn’t even included in Alive; he is played by Enzo Vogrincic, who has the looks and the intensity of a younger Adam Driver and rivets the movie in his determination to keep himself together in circumstances that are beyond challenging. The script is based on the 2009 book of the same name by Uruguayan journalist Pablo Vierci as well as more than 100 hours of interviews by the production with still-living survivors. Some of the film was shot at the actual crash site. There is a sense of melancholy memorial about the film, the weight of so many young lives lost: as they die, their names and ages appear as legends onscreen.
Bayona has done disaster before: the 2012 tsunami survival drama The Impossible, which also focused on the small scale of fragile people amidst vast catastrophe. But Society — Spain’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the upcoming Oscars, and one of the 15 now-shortlisted movies — shares an ethos, too, with his horror movies, 2007’s The Orphanage and 2016’s A Monster Calls, and their aching confrontations with grief and death. What those people up on the glacier went through is so extreme that most of us can barely fathom it, never mind have any similar experience to compare it to. Even if you already know the full extent of what it took to survive this nightmare, Bayona’s translation of it finds new power and universality in what they suffered.
more films like this:
• Alive [Prime US | Prime UK | Apple TV]
• Arctic [Prime US | Prime UK | Apple TV UK | Netflix US | Kanopy US]
“Four stars”– Jeffrey Dahmer.
I know you’re being funny, but have you seen the film? Dahmer would not be a fan, not least because of how tormented everyone is over what they need to do to survive.
Oh, it’s not the film, it’s the central concept. The same (more or less) story in a lifeboat would be no more enticing to me. The skull behind the face is scary to me. 😦
finally watched this last week and was both overwhelmed with how well Bayona captured the physical scale of how small they were, how invisible (and thus, how infinitesimal their chances of survival), and moved deeply by how intensely he focused in on the bond between these poor souls. I knew a vague outline of what happened going in, and was bracing myself for visuals akin to The Terror (which I am a big fan of); and while many moments were visceral, I found just as many to be so full of respect and awe as to near reverence. gorgeous film.


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