There are times when, as a young actor, you question your career decisions.
Like when you get buried up to your chin in snow, your head is pressed against the fuselage of a plane and your director starts covering your mouth and nose with more snow, so much so that you can barely breathe. That may be the moment when you wonder, “Maybe I should have gone to law school?”
But not Enzo Vogrincic. It was halfway through recording JA Bayona’s Association of the Snow when the 30-year-old Uruguayan actor found himself in exactly that position. The Netflix drama, which concludes Venice this year, tells a true, phenomenal survival story. Of the 45 people, including 19 members of the Old Christians Club rugby team, who boarded Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 from Montevideo to Chile on October 13, 1972. While crossing the Andes Mountains, the plane crashed, killing twelve people instantly and leaving the survivors faced with freezing temperatures, extreme weather and almost certain starvation. After weeks without food, they resorted to eating the bodies of the dead to survive.
They almost didn’t make it. Only after 72 days in the mountains did help arrive.
Bayona, excited to make Association of the Snow As authentically as possible, he had his actors relive the experience of the survivors, spending almost four months in the mountains – a short time in the Andes, at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, and most of it in the Sierra Nevada in Spain, at the more reasonable altitude of about 11,000 feet. The director shot in succession and slowly starved his cast – safely, with nutritionists on standby – to depict the group’s slow decline.
Enzo Vogrincic on set of ‘Society of the Snow’
Cast as Numa Turcatti, the moral and spiritual heart of the team, Vogrincic fattened up to about 154 pounds only to slim down to 103 pounds on the final day of shooting.
“It was a very gradual process and very well controlled and guided, but it was difficult to maintain (the low weight),” says Vogrincic. “But me and the other actors started to enjoy it. We got competitive: after filming, we’d go back to where we were staying and go for a run or go to the gym. It was about who can lose the most weight?
Speaking from Uruguay via Zoom, Vogrincic looks healthy and happy. He talks about the Association of the Snow Less an ordeal than an adventure, he says an adventure changed his life.
The 30-year-old actor has built a reputation in Latin America, starring in the Amazon Prime spy thriller Yosi, the sorry spy by Argentinian director Daniel Burman and a Ronaldo-like football star in the Uruguayan sports drama by Martín Barrenechea and Nicolás Branca 9. But working with Bayona, director of The orphanage, The impossible And Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdomwas on another level.
“We were in the mountains in the open air for 124 days, constantly cold and hungry. But this is what caused the sensations we needed to feel to act on what was actually happening,” he says. “When we went to the Andes for two days, it was so cold that the water in our tent froze. But it was incredible to be right where these people were, to stand where they were and really feel like there was no escape.”
The most poignant moment in the film is when the survivors, huddled for warmth in the fuselage of the crashed plane, are hit by an avalanche, burying them alive.
“Yes, that avalanche was without a doubt the most intense scene to film. We filmed it for two weeks,” says Vogrincic. ‘That’s two weeks on the plane. The roof is inches from our heads, the snow is up to our chins. We weren’t completely frozen. We had clean clothes, but those clothes were also frozen. Everything was wet. Before each shot we also had to have our faces covered with snow. And we kept doing it over and over to get it right. At some point I got sick. I had a fever and pneumonia. My colleagues told me to take a break, get off the mountain and go back to the hotel. But I wanted to make the best of being sick, with red eyes and a swollen face. When I see those scenes again now, I love them. I wish I could have been sick all the time.”
After two international versions of the story: the 1976 Mexican exploitation film To survive! and that of Frank Marshall Empathize (1993) with Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano – Vogrincic says that as a Uruguayan he is proud to be able to tell the story of Flight 571.
“In Uruguay we all grow up knowing the story. We have a very strong bond with what happened, it’s very emotional for us,” he says. “It’s such an incredible story for so many reasons, and I think it really deserved to be told from the inside, from Uruguay. All the survivors were involved in this film and all the families of those who did not return were involved as well. I think we could really be true to these people and what really happened.”