“Who were we on those mountains?”
With the film aptly given the name La Sociedad de la Nieve (The Society of the Snow), the question is answered: a society of valiant people willing to go to any length to help each other survive such a tragic disaster in brutal, icy conditions.
La Sociedad de la Nieve was released on Netflix at the beginning of January. It’s a Spanish-language film recounting the events of Flight 571 that crashed into the Andes mountains back in 1972 with 45 souls on board, only 16 surviving the bleak conditions of being stuck in such an unforgiving environment. The plane was carrying the Old Christians rugby team from Montevideo in Uruguay to Santiago in Chile for a game. As a student of Spanish and a bit of a fanatic for planes and the reasons behind aviation disasters, I knew I had to watch it!
Firstly, it’s important to watch the film with its original audio- Uruguayan Spanish. English dubbing never seems to have the same impact in disaster films as the original audio. Also, with the plane crash being such a massive part in South American history, it feels simply wrong to watch it in any other way than was intended. The director, J.A. Bayona, said this himself about the film after many complained at the Americanisation of 1993’s Alive, a film which recounts the same events but where everyone is very obviously NOT Uruguayan.
The graphic nature of the film was essential to its success. The actual crash of the plane seemed to go on for ages with shaking shots and close ups of scared faces of the men shouting for their mothers. It really hit close to home just how traumatising the whole ordeal must have been.
It really hit close to home just how traumatising the whole ordeal must have been.
The use of shots was actually my favourite part of the film. As the men struggled to survive for two months in the biting cold with little to no food or water, under the burning sun during the day, the costume and makeup designers did a fantastic job of recreating their emaciated, sun-weathered bodies and their torn, dirty clothes. Often, there would be close up shots of one passenger on his own sat outside the destroyed fuselage, sadly trying to face eating a piece of flesh from a deceased passenger while the rolling hills of snow shone in the background.
Cannibalism is a massive part of this story in history and J.A.Bayona made sure to make the experience as realistic and uncomfortable as possible. Covering up piles of flesh and bones before snapping photos of themselves on a camera found in the plane demonstrated to me that these men were disgusted at the lengths they had to go to survive.
The ending of the film is potentially one of the most cathartic I’ve seen in a disaster film and the music adds to this. The two men who hiked for ten days across the Andes into Chile to reach civilisation become the true heroes of the whole story when they encounter a man at a farm on horseback who offers to call the police station to put an end to their ordeal. The ending is particularly emotive as the helicopters fly over the crash site with cameras as the survivors cheer below and we are given access to the real life footage from 1972 of the same scene. The similarities are uncanny.
The ending of the film is potentially one of the most cathartic I’ve seen in a disaster film and the music adds to this.
I couldn’t recommend this film more. It feels so frightening and claustrophobic. J.A.Bayona’s use of unknown actors also contributes to the authentic feel of it. Not recognising actors from other films makes it feel more real and we can empathise more with ordinary people. Full of grit and comradery, it’s a must watch.