Behind the scenes with the ‘Society of the Snow’ makeup team: ‘Bayona set aside the shot of severed heads because he found them unbearable’

Sisters Ana and Belén López Puigcerver, David Martí and Montse Ribé have their eyes on the Goyas and the Oscars after their work on a film that recounts the survival of 16 men after a 1972 Andes plane crash

Enzo Vogrincic
Enzo Vogrincic, in character as Numa Turquetti in ‘Society of the Snow.'Netflix

Makeup artist David Martí didn’t feel like working on Society of the Snow. “I didn’t want to make another melodrama with Jota [director J.A. Bayona]. We had already made The Impossible and A Monster Calls, a film that I had a particularly bad time making because my mother died of cancer, and it was a difficult moment for me. I wanted a comedy, an adventure film, something like that. So, when he told Montse and I that he had decided to do Society of the Snow, which he had been thinking about for years, I looked at him and said: ‘What are you talking about!’” remembers the makeup professional, in a video call from his DDT studio, in Barcelona, alongside his collaborator Montse Ribé. In the end, they agreed to work on the film, and thank goodness they did. Their names are included in the double nomination (at the Goya Awards and the Oscars) that they share with makeup artist Ana López Puigcerver’s team.

We are in the same city and just a few subway stops away from each other, but Martí and Ribé are grateful that the interview is taking place via internet. They say they have been “overwhelmed” by the media interest that their Oscar nomination has drummed up. They experienced something similar in 2007, when they won the award for their work in makeup and hairdressing on Guillermo del Toro’s team for Pan’s Labyrinth. “We didn’t know where we were,” Ribé says. Coming nearly full circle after that magical night, which saw Steven Spielberg borrowing their Oscar, and the duo winding up at Prince’s party, the creative couple will return to Los Angeles at the beginning of March. They are responsible for the technical end of the makeup on a film that has become a phenomenon on Netflix, with over 50 million views within the first 10 days of being uploaded to the platform.

David Martí y Montse Ribé
David Martí and Montse Ribé of DDT, during technical makeup tests, in this case for a prothesis, on ‘Society of Snow.'Quim Vives

To their team fell the task of investigating — through medical reports, accounts from eyewitnesses and physical remnants of the event — what happened during and after the 1972 accident, in which 16 men survived for 72 days, thanks to anthropophagy, after their plane, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, hit the Andes mountains. Their work consisted of replicating how and where bodies were hit upon impact, what they looked like after the crash and during the survival process and how the corpses changed as the days went by. At DDT, hyperrealistic replicas of inert bodies, torsos of living characters, severed heads, damaged dentures, false cheekbones to create cadaveric faces, fake ears — such as worn by Tomás Wolf as Gustavo Zerbino — and even rickety legs, were brought to life in record time. And yes, the pair’s work stars in the crucial shot near the end of the film, one that no one would imagine was completely artificial. “One of the most satisfying feelings during this project was when I heard the murmur that arose in the cinemas during the moment in which the survivors undress to take a shower, and our leg appears in the foreground, in the Chilean hospital after the rescue,” says Ribé. Anyone who has seen the film, whether it was at home or on the big screen, understands the reason behind the audience’s astonishment.

The gore you never saw

Sans fauns and other magical creatures, but flush with hyperrealism, their job was to make sure that the audience was completely unaware of the work they’d done. They wanted to portray both the survivor’s physical deterioration and the appearance of the corpses that lurk in the corners of certain shots. Martí says that before it hit post-production, Society of the Snow had the potential to be “a gore film” about anthropophagy. But only Bayona saw that potential version of the movie. “Jota always likes to shoot all the possibilities, to have the footage ready for the final edit. So, we did a lot of things for him. From eating marrow to cutting off heads to taking out brains, everything. We would say, ‘But is this necessary?’ He wanted it all,” says Martí. These explicit shots were seen in the first edits, but do not appear in the final edition. “When I asked him why he had taken our work out, he told us that he had removed it because he felt that it was unbearable to watch. ‘If people saw this, they would walk out of the theater,’ he told us.” Ribé clarifies that those shots didn’t ring true with the film’s intention. “Jota wanted it to be very realistic, to tell everything, but always respecting the privacy of the survivors,” he says.

Ana López-Puigcerver
Ana López Puigcerver, makeup artist, during the filming of ‘Society of the Snow.'Quim Vives

DDT was already familiar with the Barcelona director’s methods, but it was makeup artist López Puigcerver, whose team was more focused on the non-technical side, who was making her debut with Bayona. The madrileña came to the project in the spring of 2021 via one of its producers, Sandra Hermida, with whom she had already worked. “She called me and told that she had a very nice project that I was going to love. She wasn’t wrong,” López Puigcerver says from the other end of a phone call, standing in the hallway of a hotel in central Madrid, where she was in the midst of the fourth week of shooting Daniel Guzmán’s latest film. The woman doesn’t stop. López Puigcerver’s has been a life full of cinema. Her husband is a director of photography, her son is a camera operator and her sister Belén is part of her team, specializing in hair.

Deteriorating credibility

“In Society of the Snow, it is very difficult to know where one makeup begins and another ends,” she says, speaking about the different tasks she and DDT performed. Her role ranged from ensuring logical and chronological continuity to the physical degradation of survivors. She created the raccoon effect on the coma-stricken Fernando Parrado’s eyes: “Medical reports told us that it had to be totally symmetrical, as you see in the film.” She also found out what kind of beard can be grown at 4,000 meters above sea level (“there are people who don’t believe how it barely grew, but in Uruguay, there are many hairless men”) to contacting survivors and their relatives in order to recreate their hairstyles. She even interviewed Laura Surraco, Roberto Canessa’s parter, to find out how she did her eyeliner, and how to apply it for the Catholic mass scene.

“The actors lost a lot of weight, and we had the support of DDT, who worked on their prostheses. The most complicated part was to portray the passage of time and the consequences that had on the bodies of the living, to understand the temporal ellipses,” says the makeup artist, who has been steadily building an Instagram following in the wake of the film’s success. The interest generated by the film has made its behind-the-scenes videos, such as the one of the Enzo Vogrincic (Numa Turcatti in the film)’s physical degradation, go viral in a matter of hours.

Matías Recalt
Matías Recalt is Roberto Canessa in ‘Society of the Snow.'Quim Vives

Lòpez Puigcerver was not expecting the Oscar nomination. DDT wasn’t either. Martí and Ribé thought that Maestro, despite the debate that has ignited on social media over Bradley Cooper’s exaggerated prothesis, could have taken home the award in the category. López Puigcerver, who will make her red carpet debut at Los Angeles’s Dolby theater, has already received messages from U.S. stylists offering to dress her. “I don’t know if they’ll give it to us or not, but I do know that I’m taking my styling cues from Madrid. And I will have the best help to choose from: all my friends work in wardrobe,” she says. Yet more proof of that other community that nobody sees, but shoulders a big part of the responsibility for movie magic.

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