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Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains"

With this film, there could be emerging a cottage industry of disasters on the remote reaches of mountains where human endurance and morality are put to the most grueling test. Its predecessor, "Touching the Void," is a gripping tale of rescue and escape from death told by the actual mountain climbers who lived through an impossible experience. They sit before the cameras and relate their nightmare as proof of its reality.

With similar incredulity, "Stranded" relates what a traveling rugby team and a few of their relatives did to sustain an airplane crash on a remote Andean glacier at the height of winter--and survive for an unbelievable 72 days. Sixteen of the 45 passengers returned, and here tell of the events from their point of view. We hear of the particular anguish and fears each survivor went through, as we watch archival footage and reenactments that convey the realities of adaptation. The result is as much a testament to documentary filmmaker Gonzalo Arijon's novelistic story structure as it is to a human drama on the physical and mental extremes.

Starting with the joy of anticipation on the team's day of departure, he moves to the depiction of youthful exuberance on the plane in the early part of the journey, then to fear and dread as their craft enters unstable weather over the remotest of snow-filled mountains. And, finally, the horror of crash landing when the engines aren't powerful enough to ascend over an upcoming peak. But the disaster isn't a finality. A new story now begins.

The fact of having survived so long--well after the plane's store of food has been exhausted--raises the question and marks the feat of what the will to live and long-term survival entails. On the one hand the scandal of crossing the line of a major human taboo, cannibalism and, on the other, the act of dealing with inordinate odds. In the final analysis, the impulse of self preservation is a powerful trump card in the game of life.

In 1973 the event was turned into "Alive," a documentary non-fiction bestseller. Later, in 1993, a movie based on the book, starring Ethan Hawke, was released. But director Arijon, a childhood friend of the survivors who, after all, were all home-town boys from Montevideo, Uruguay, didn't think the account was complete. With the benefit of still-vivid memories, he presents the full picture fully reenacted, with the survivors' relating the harrowing details from their unique points of view as testimony to shifting physical, mental and spiritual adaptations under deteriorating conditions. One of the witnesses' main points (and justification for the film) is the agreement among them that the stranded were able to survive for so long, defying all probability, because of one precious element: sustained unity. Teamwork wins.

The title is a quote of the first words spoken to people at the base of the mountain range when two of the survivors completed a last ditch effort to reach civilization and rescue.

One could only have wished for more concision since the storytelling, at two hours and two minutes (and minus 12% Fahrenheit), is a bit overlong and prone to frostbite. But, despite that feeling, the nearly hour-long extra "The Making of Stranded" is fascinating because of all the questions about the reenactment the film itself raises.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The stranded welcoming the rescue plane.

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