When it feels like all hope is lost, there is always light at the end of the tunnel
As we pass the five year anniversary of the 33 Chilean miners that found themselves trapped 2,300 feet beneath the earth’s surface, we once again relive their ordeal - only this time on the big screen.We are introduced to some of the miners and their loved ones during a party as they celebrate the impending retirement of old-timer Mario Gomez (Gustavo Angarita) in Copiapó, Chile. It’s here that we are privy to some of the back stories behind the men. We see that Edison Peña (Jacob Vargas) is a massive Elvis fan and impersonator, how Alex Vega (Mario Casas) is a young father to be, that Luis Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips) better known to the men as ‘Don Lucho’ is an understanding shift supervisor and that Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) is a loving husband who wants nothing more than to be able to provide for his family.This scene is poignantly set outside in the dazzling sunshine and strewn with vivid colour and happiness. However, unbeknownst to them, August 5, 2010, will forever be the day that changed the lives of the 33 anonymous men who were simply going about their routine, daily lives. As the men make the hour long journey, into what might as well be the centre of the earth, they are none the wiser to the fact that it was the last time they would see daylight for 69 days. In this cinematic recreation of those dramatic 69 days, we are shown how and why it happened and the impact it had on the lives of The 33 and their families
Patricia Riggen (Girl in Progress) directed The 33 from a screen play written by Mikko Alanna, Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Thomas which was based on a screen story by Jose Rivera (The Motor Cycle Diaries) and critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Deep Down Dark by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hector Tobar. Unable to film in Chile because closing a working mine was not feasible, the film was shot on location in Colombia. Riggen makes a thorough use of the beautiful landscape from the dramatic sweeping over head shots of the Atacama Desert at the beginning of the film to the dark and confined cavities of the Nemocón and Zipaquirá mines which stood in place for the San José Mine. The salt mines work wonderfully to convey the isolation that the miners must have experienced and contrasted with the brightness of the desert, it really reiterates the difference between the two worlds.
Filming inside the mines enabled the filmmakers to recreate, even if just a fraction, of what it must have felt like for the men. Above ground just outside the perimeter of the mine lies Camp Esperanza (Hope) a community comprised of the miners families as they wait in hope for their loved ones return. Cinematographer Checco Varese and Riggen utilised the camera work to further distinguish the disparities between the underground mine and the camp; above ground the camera actively follows the action documenting the actions of the engineers and the families whereas below the surface the camera remains static — tableaux style, voyeuristically watching the miners as they try to survive.
The 33 offers a tiny glimpse into what became reality for 33 men over the course of 69 days.
The 33 is told from three perspectives; the miners who are trapped below desperate for freedom, the families of the men who are unaware of whether their loved ones are dead or alive and the engineers and government suit Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), who has resigned himself to do whatever it takes to ensure the men are brought to the surface which he manages through a light bulb moment. Below ground leadership falls onto the shoulders of Mario Sepúlveda, who reluctantly takes up the challenge and does his best to ensure that the men stay positive and instills faith that help is on the way. It is understandably difficult to show each of the miner’s backstories and allow them all an equal amount of time on camera, which is why Riggen opted to focus primarily on ten of the miners. Unfortunately this decision hinders the sincerity of the narrative and feels slightly forced, giving priority to the screenplay it seems, rather than a focus on the visual aspect. With such limitations on duration (the film is 127 minutes), the efforts made to try and build an emotional connection to the characters are restrained, but the reminder that this is (as many of us witnessed) a true story enables the film to resonate on a higher level.
With cheesy one liners such as "That’s the heart of the mountain" and "She finally broke", upon the discovery of a rock twice the size of the Empire State Building which is preventing their escape, mixed with the fact everyone speaks English, it does somewhat disrupt the ability to immerse it’s audience into the filmic world and that of the people on screen. Likewise, having such an international cast does present its problems in that the accents are all extremely varied which again, adds to the lack of verisimilitude, however the cast do their best to represent the camaraderie and sense of unity, be it through the miners, engineers or the families waiting on the side lines. There is one fantasy scene which is beautifully shot to give insight into the miners state of mind and it’s a real shame that more of these weren’t used to prevent the various moments which delayed the pace of the film. We know how the story ends but The 33 does its best to show how this tragedy impacted the families and the struggle it was for the men trapped in a mine which was once their livelihood but now posed a real threat in ending their lives.
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