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‘Society Of The Snow’ Review: J.A. Bayona’s Thrilling Account Of 1972 Uruguayan Rugby Team Airplane Crash Closes Venice Film Festival

The story of the harrowing 1972 crash of the airplane carrying members of the Uruguay Rugby team in the remote snowy mountains of Argentina has been told cinematically a few times before. There was a rather crass version released in America as Survive! in 1976, and later a notable take on the story from director Frank Marshall called Alive through Disney Studios and starring Ethan Hawke and others in 1993.

But now with Netflix’s Society of the Snow, director J.A. Bayona, who has previously found compelling stories depicting the will to survive in unspeakable human disasters, has made his own version of events of the half-century old story. The director of the 2012 The Impossible about tourists and locals caught in a killer tsunami in Thailand has taken a different approach here and based this stunning account on Pablo Vierci’s novel about it that was written 36 years after the actual crash. Bayona and his screenwriting team however veered from the book in choosing to focus not just on those 16 souls who ultimately made it out alive, but also on those others of the initial 29 who survived the impact but later succumbed to the elements. What he has made is a story of how humanity comes together for each other in the worst of circumstances, how faith can see us through, and the sheer will to live involved in just simply pulling off a miracle by never giving up.

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Despite all human disasters over the years, this is one that continues to catch our consciousness. In October 1972 the Old Christians Club Rugby Team were on a plane in Montevideo, Uruguay headed to Santiago, Chile for a match. On board were the team, some family and friends, about 45 in all. However it never made it, crashing instead into the Valley of Tears in the Andes in Argentina, one of the most remote, impenetrable areas on Earth. Some died instantly, but 29 survived the impact and this is their story of what happened up there in unimaginable freezing and snowy weather conditions for two and a half months before being found on December 23, 1972, a true Christmas miracle that only happened after three of the survivors set out to Chile on foot in order to find help, an impossible and treacherous journey just on its own.

Of course this tale has been sensationalized over the decades for the simple fact that in order to live, the remaining survivors would eat the flesh of those who died. That aspect of cannibalism suggests a grisly horror story, yet Bayona is not interested in exploiting it and thankfully does not show graphic images, rather suggesting how even the dead made it possible for others to live. If you are coming to this film for any other reason you will be disappointed. This is ultimately a spiritual journey on many levels, focusing on the human will to overcome the worst of circumstances.

Bayona is an exceptional director of action and there is plenty here involving avalanches and other terrifying events over the two and a half months from the crash to the rescue. Most impressive however is the truly frightening crash itself captured in excruciating detail. Pedro Luque Briozzo Scu is the superb cinematographer and his cameras cover it with startling realism.

With this film Bayona has returned to making a film in the Spanish language and has assembled a fine ensemble of actors including Enzo Vogrincic in a leading role as the determined leader Numa, Augustin Pardella as Nando, and Matias Pecalt as Roberto.

Special mention should be made of Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino’s stirring musical score.

Producers are Bayona, Belen Atienza and Sandra Hermida. The film was the closing-night attraction of the 2023 Venice Film Festival.

Title: Society of the Snow
Distributor: Netflix
Festival: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenwriters: J.A. Bayona, Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques-Olearraga, Nicolas Casariego
Cast: Enzo Vogrincic, Augustin Pardella, Matias Recalt
Running time: 2 hrs 24 min

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