Stranded: I’ve Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (Warner Brothers, NR)

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One question would be asked again and again: What did they do for food? At first they parried the question, but soon the truth came out: They survived by eating the flesh of those who died in the plane crash.

 

In 1972, two days before Christmas, a Chilean shepherd tending his flock in the foothills of the Andes spotted two men frantically gesturing to him. Believing them to be tourists, the shepherd left, but when he returned the next day they were still there.

As he and the men were separated by a torrential river that also made impossible to hear their voices, the shepherd folded a pen and some paper into a handkerchief and threw it to the men. They wrote back the message: “We’re from a plane that crashed on the mountains. Fourteen of our friends are still alive up there.”

The men, 19-year-old Roberto Canessa and 20-year-old Fernando Parrado, had walked 44 miles over the snow-swept Andean peaks, without proper clothing or special equipment. They became an immediate media sensation; even before a helicopter was dispatched to locate the other survivors, the international press appeared to interview them about their extraordinary journey.

One question would be asked again and again: What did they do for food? At first they parried the question, but soon the truth came out: They survived by eating the flesh of those who died in the plane crash.

Cannibalism violates one of our strongest taboos, so it’s not surprising that this aspect of the story has received disproportionate attention. Even the unfortunate tagline for this movie — “Could you eat human flesh to survive?” — plays into this morbid interest.

But cannibalism is not the main topic of Stranded, which is far more thoughtful and less sensational than the 1974 book Alive or the 1993 film made from it. Using interviews with all 16 survivors, archival materials and re-enactments, director Gonzalo Arijón (a childhood friend of some of the film’s subjects) has created a serious documentary which is respectful of the feelings of all concerned, and gives the survivors ample time to explain their choices.

The men are philosophical about their experience. One likens consuming human flesh to the ritual consumption of the body and blood of Christ during the Catholic mass. Others reflect on the strangeness and random nature of life, in which for no discernible reason some people perish in an accident while others on the same plane do not even suffer injury. They relate the routines they developed under extraordinary conditions: rotating sleeping locations so all would get a turn at the most sheltered spots, carefully rationing their resources, and sending out expeditionary teams first to locate the remainder of the plane and then to look for help.

The re-enactments, shot without dialogue by César Charlone and Pablo Hernán Zubizarreta, are so expertly integrated with the interviews and archival footage (primarily of press conferences following the rescue) that they appear almost as living memories of the men involved. Minimal background music by Florencia Di Concilio-Perrin adds to the sense that we are seeing events as they were lived by the people involved. The result is a restrained yet moving presentation of an extraordinary episode in human experience. | Sarah Boslaugh

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