“The Circle of Snow”: in the Andes, horror and survival

“The Circle of Snow”: in the Andes, horror and survival


For half a century, the “miracle of the Andes” has fueled the collective imagination of cannibalistic terror – since the survivors of the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 [occurred on October 13, 1972 in the Andes mountain range] fed on the bodies of the victims of the catastrophe to survive – but also on heroic images of young people forced to surpass themselves in the eternal snow. One might have expected Juan Antonio Bayona, a director who has devoted part of his career to terrorizing his spectators ( The Orphanage , A Few Minutes After Midnight ), to focus on the first aspect of the tragedy, like the creators of the Yellowjackets series, which made the cannibalism of their protagonists an evil ritual. A meticulous and spectacular account of “what happened in the mountain”, Le Cercle des neiges proceeds against this expectation.

Which doesn’t mean that Bayona has put away the horror cinema toolbox. It serves here to depict ordinary characters placed in an exceptional human situation. The spectacle of hands emerging from the ground and bodies with cadaverous complexions emerging from their tombs (in this case, the layer of snow left by an avalanche, an episode that repeats itself) serves here to translate the untranslatable (the proximity of the death, transgression) in familiar cinema terms.

This mechanism of terror is coupled with a use of doloristic imagery that evokes baroque painting. The faces of the young men of the Uruguayan Old Christians rugby team, gone from Montevideo to play in Santiago de Chile, gradually transform into portraits of old Christian martyrs, emaciated, torn by a pain that brings them closer to enlightenment.

Concern for accuracy

This Catholic prosody is found in the purely verbal confrontation which leads to the decision to subsist on the flesh of the crash victims. While the most religious of the team (from a Catholic high school) worry about the salvation of their souls, the rationalists (there are two medical students on board) emphasize the salvation of the body.

The Circle of Snows was filmed in the studio and in the Spanish Sierra Nevada. We would never say it. Bayona, who had already brought down the tsunami of 2004 in The Impossible (2012), masters all the resources of digital cinema. Instead of helping bodybuilders to free themselves from gravity, they serve here to provide a seat in the twin-engine aircraft at the time of the crash, to place insignificant bodies in white expanses, to move thousands of tons of snow whose threat hangs over heads torn by the violence of their daily meals.

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