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HomeUncategorized‘Community of the Snow’ Assessment: The Marooned and the Devoted

‘Community of the Snow’ Assessment: The Marooned and the Devoted

Creators are fond of stories of endurance, but there are elements of the so-named “miracle in the Andes” that present unique challenges for any film, particularly because, fifty years later, the most infamous twist that the events took will be familiar to most viewers from the start.

On October 13, 1972, a Uruguayan plane en route to Santiago, Chile, carrying 45 individuals, including the rugby team recognized as the Old Christians, crashed in the Andes. By the time of a rescue mission 10 weeks later, 16 people survived. They did so through a blend of ingenuity, perseverance, faith and, famously, the decision — in a snowy, mountainous environment without food — to consume the deceased. Roberto Canessa, a survivor who became a prominent pediatric cardiologist and an unlikely 1994 presidential candidate in Uruguay, stated to National Geographic that “anthropophagy” is a more suitable term for what occurred than “cannibalism,” which might suggest killing people for consumption.

Blending scenes from the Andes with locations in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain, the Spanish-language “Community of the Snow,” helmed by J.A. Bayona (“The Orphanage”), possesses an authenticity absent in the 1993 film “Alive,” with its predominantly American cast led by a pre-“Reality Bites” Ethan Hawke, flaunting magazine-ready hair. However, “Community of the Snow,” based on a book by Pablo Vierci, lacks the immediacy that arises from witnessing the actual survivors, a spectacle presented by the documentary “Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains” (2008).

For a seasoned action practitioner like Bayona, the crash is the manageable part. The foreshadowing is persistent and repetitive. “This could be our final journey together,” Pancho Delgado (Valentino Alonso), in the early Montevideo scenes, communicates to Numa Turcatti (Enzo Vogrincic), a passenger who narrates the film (and whose destiny the movie reserves for one of its cheaper ploys). In flight, a newspaper headline alerts viewers to a boat that has sunk off Montevideo’s coast. The young men discuss how perilous it is to fly through the Andes because of the suction created by warm winds from Argentina and the cold mountain air.

The plane mishap is alarmingly vivid. Snow, debris and wind whirl through the breached fuselage. Rows of seats collapse like accordions, impaling some of the passengers. The soundtrack is a whirl of clattering metal. After the wreckage comes to a halt, Bayona captures the initial moments in disorienting close-ups, as the characters strive to assemble what just occurred and the layout of their location.

The extended struggle proves more challenging from a dramatic perspective. “The issue is, no film can truly encompass the sheer enormity of the ordeal,” Roger Ebert articulated regarding “Alive” 31 years ago, and that still holds true at present. Film captures visuals and sounds adeptly, but it is less effective at capturing hunger, cold and endurance, at least when endurance is quantified in days and weeks.

Then there is the issue of how explicit this film should be; in this regard, “Community of the Snow,” despite at least one rib cage visibly stripped bare, remains circumspect. No rendition of this narrative has portrayed the survivors’ choice to consume human flesh as impulsive or thoughtless. This time, once that decision is made, initially three men perform the butchering away from the sight of the others. However, when an avalanche entraps the group, resulting in the death of some of them, consuming meat without identities and faces attached instantaneously becomes inconceivable, Numa expresses in voice-over. Bayona then exhibits Roberto (Matías Recalt) carving into some ostensibly unidentified flesh — but judiciously keeps out of frame anything identifiable about the body.

The material is fundamentally riveting, and segments are difficult to resist, including the first sight of another individual by Nando Parrado (Agustín Pardella) and Roberto after the two of them have spent days ascending toward civilization. However, “Community of the Snow” is a contradictory film to observe the way most individuals will perceive it — on Netflix, in the comfort of their residences, with a refrigerator nearby.

Community of the Snow
Rated R. Horror and isolation; anthropophagy. In Spanish, with subtitles. Duration: 2 hours 24 minutes. View on Netflix.

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