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Stranded

Posted at 3:47 PM on November 30, 2008 by Euan Kerr

There is a poignant irony to having "Stranded: I've come from a plane that crashed in the mountains" open during the Thanksgiving weekend. It's easy to be flippant, but the famous story of the Uruguayan rugby players forced to make some horrible decisions when facing the reality of starvation after surviving a plane crash in the Andes is indeed fitting for a holiday now dedicated to gluttony.

Director Gonzalo Arijón uses interviews with all of the survivors and several of the people involved in the rescue in the film combined with newsreel footage and re-enactments to tell the story.

The players who were in their late teens in 1972 are now grey-haired men who have spent their entire adult lives living with what happened, and the label of cannibal hanging over them. They tell the story in a matter of fact way, with a great deal of thought and an understanding of what their three months on the glacier high in the Andes meant for themselves and for the larger world.

While there was revulsion and horror at the story when it broke, the circumstances brought messages of understanding from as far away as the Vatican itself. Yet such is the depth of the taboo they have never been able to escape their story.

"Stranded" is surreally beautiful, with the blend of dreamlike reconstructions shot by the cinematographer from "City of God" César Charlone, and the stark reality of the archive films and the current day interviews. This transition works particularly well when the men survive their ordeal, but then realize they have to face a world which is amazed at their survival.

Both Arijón and Charlone knew the players as boys, and Charlone was meant to be on the plane, but couldn't make it. Their personal connection is evident in the film.

The film is a lot gentler than Piers Paul Reid's book "Alive!" and I would recommend anyone who is interested in this incredible story to check out that book too. Yet "Stranded" offers a rare glimpse of a group of childhood friends who have faced horrors and death together and still three and a half decades later are bound by friendship and having lived through the unimaginable.

November 2008
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