ICFIFC: Quintet

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Monday, October 21, 2013

ICFIFC: Quintet

Quintet is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film by Robert Altman produced in 1979.  It features among others Paul Newman, Brigitte Fossey, Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey, Vittorio Gassman and Nina Van Pallandt.  The soundtrack was recorded by the New York Philharmonic. 

The majority of the movie was filmed on the site of Montreal's Expo '67 World's Fair.  This is the same location as the empty Man and His World Pavilion on St. Helen's Island.  This island is connected to Montreal by Bridges and the subway.  It was originally built for Expo '67 and remained standing there for several more years.  The pavilion was to be razed after filming was complete.  Director Robert Altman had developed an affection for the silk-screened glass panels that he had used to heighten the lost-world sense of the movie's setting.  He salvaged the 44 panels and for a time displayed them at his Lion's Gate studio.  When he and his wife found an apartment in Manhattan in 1984, about a dozen of the panels - some as tall as 18 feet - became the dominant decorative feature.

A rare entry into the sci-fi genre for director Robert Altman who previously had directed the moon movie Countdown around twelve years earlier and actor Paul Newman's only ever film in the science-fiction film genre.

The film's "Quintet" title refers to a board game which is a death game played by six participants involved in hide-and-seek antics in which the losers get killed by the winners, thus leaving five people (hence the word quintet which equals five).  The movie was classified with a number of 18+ film censorship classification certificates around the world for its violence, a rare adults only classification for a Robert Altman film.


Quintet (1979)

  • Genre: Mystery – Romance – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Robert Altman
  • Produced:
    • Robert Altman
    • Allan F. Nicholls 
    • Tommy Thompson
  • Written:
    • Robert Altman 
    • Lionel Chetwynd 
    • Patricia Resnick 
    • Frank Barhydt
  • Starring: Paul Newman, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey, Bibi Andersson, Brigitte Fossey, Nina Van Pallandt
  • Music: Tom Pierson
  • Cinematography: Jean Boffety
  • Editing: Dennis M. Hill
  • Studio:
    • Lion's Gate Films  
    • Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
  • Distributed: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 16 February 1979
  • Running Time: 118 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

The story takes place during a new ice age.  The camera tracks a blank, frozen, seemingly deserted tundra until two blurry, distant figures can just be made out.  They are the seal hunter Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant companion, Vivia (Brigitte Fossey), the daughter of one of Essex's late hunting partners.  They are traveling north, where Essex hopes to reunite with his brother, Francha (Thomas Hill).

Essex and Vivia eventually find Francha's apartment, but the reunion is short-lived.  While Essex is out buying firewood, a gambler named Redstone (Craig Richard Nelson) throws a bomb into Francha's apartment, killing everyone inside, including Vivia.  Essex sees Redstone fleeing the scene and chases him to the sector's "Information Room."  Essex witnesses the murder of Redstone by a Latin gambler named St. Christopher (Vittorio Gassman).  When St. Christopher leaves, Essex searches Redstone's pockets and finds a piece of paper with a list of names: Francha, Redstone, Goldstar, Deuca, St. Christopher, and Ambrosia.

Puzzled by the mystery, Essex discovers that Redstone had previously checked into the Hotel Electra, a gambling resort in another sector.  He visits the hotel and assumes Redstone's identity.  Immediately after checking in, Essex is given an unexpected welcome by Grigor (Fernando Rey), who is the dealer in the casino.  Insisting that he means no harm, Grigor invites Essex (as "Redstone") to the casino, where gamblers are now heavily involved in a "Quintet" tournament (rules available here).  While there he meets Ambrosia (Bibi Andersson), who always plays the "sixth man" in the game.

Essex is unaware that the current Quintet tournament is a fight for the survival of the fittest.  Those who are "killed" in game are executed in real life.  Grigor and St. Christopher are aware that Essex is not the real Redstone, so they ignore him and focus on the other players.  Goldstar (David Langton) is the first killed, followed by Deuca (Nina Van Pallandt), until the only two players left are St. Christopher and Ambrosia.  Ambrosia, however, insists that Essex be counted as a player in the game since he has assumed Redstone's identity.  Grigor agrees and informs St. Christopher that he has to eliminate Essex before he can face off against Ambrosia.

Essex and St. Christopher have a showdown outside the city, where St. Christopher is killed in an avalanche. Essex returns to Francha's apartment and finds the same list that Redstone had.  Ambrosia follows Essex to the apartment.  Essex slits her throat just before she is about to stab him with a hidden knife.

Returning to the Hotel Electra to cremate Ambrosia's body, Essex confronts Grigor to demand his "prize," since he was the winner of Quintet.  Grigor reveals that the only prize is the thrill of the game itself.  Grigor insists he stay and participate in future tournaments, but a disgusted Essex condemns Quintet and leaves the hotel for good.  The film ends with Essex taking a long walk out into the barren distance.

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