In 1972, a Uruguayan rugby team flying to a match in Chile crashed in the Andes, and spent over two grueling months surrounded by snow and their dying comrades. In order to survive the ordeal, they resorted to cannibalism. This is a well-known story, told in multiple feature films, books, and "Where are they now?" human-interest news items. It's no exaggeration to say that Gonzalo Arijon's Stranded: I Have Come From A Plane That Crashed On The Mountains is the definitive version.


Arijon structures his film as a fairly typical "look back" documentary, with talking head interviews, archival footage, and surprisingly well-done re-enactments. Arijon doesn't use the re-enactments exploitatively, to create a sense of creeping dread or revulsion; he uses them to ground the viewer in the desolation. By the end of the film, the audience knows the layout of that plane wreckage and the ground around it as well as the survivors did, and when two members of the party hike away from the crash site in search of rescue, we understand the scope of their journey.

Stranded drags a bit in the middle—as the actual experience did for those rugby players, no doubt—but that's mainly because Arijon has so many good quotes that he uses more than he needs. Arijon's interviews are well-shot, framing the survivors against clear blue skies, and his re-enactments never detract from those survivors' articulate, poetic reminiscences. The film doesn't dwell on the cannibalism angle, but it doesn't shortchange it either. The survivors—many of them medical students—discuss the decision to eat their comrades biologically, in terms of how the procedure worked, and philosophically, in terms of the finality of death. In that context, Arijon's choice to film the survivors returning to the Andes with their children pays huge dividends, leading to an ending that puts the real meaning of their ordeal in moving terms. Stranded pays the proper respect to those who didn't make it, by focusing on the generations spawned by those who did.