Quintet (1979) Poster


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This isn't a film for everyone
tsquires-128 September 2005
I saw the film in Westwood, and I don't recall having anyone walk out of the theater. The film is decidedly depressing. It was written at a time when a lot of people in the country were very concerned that America and the Soviet Union were heading towards nuclear war. The catch word at that time was "nuclear winter". Scientists in the late 1970's had just announced to the world that a nuclear war was totally unwinnable---because if just 10% of the nuclear weapons on Earth were detonated anywhere on the planet, so much dust and debris would be thrown into the upper atmosphere that the sun's rays would be blocked, causing another ice age. This film is set in such an ice age. The main theme of the movie is that nothing is more important than love and caring about people, and your family, and children. In the film, we see a world where people have stopped loving others, and where the people have adopted a death culture. The film was not very entertaining, but it was a warning of where our culture could be heading if we weren't careful. The movie certainly made me think. It was a turning point in my life, and made me realize I had a duty to care about other people.
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Different take on Sci/Fi
lisvic24 September 2005
I saw the film for the first time about a month ago on cable. Always heard about it, but never had a chance to check it out.In sharp contrast with most of the reviews on this page I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. While not a big budget film, production team created an interesting world of constant snow. Altman must also be given credit for successfully creating an atmosphere of constant dread. That combined with a powerful music and loud ambient sound effects, presents a cinematic work with imagery that will haunt you weeks after seeing the film.It's not a perfect film, but what film is? Sure, movie takes it's time....,but so what? Sure not everything is explained, but where does it say that story must be spoon fed to the audience? How about letting me think on my own? Sure, it's a low tech Sci/Fi, but so what? Just because there's no plasma rifles or space battles doesn't mean the film is bad...Altman's film is an unusual take on Science Fiction genre...More of a play than a film...more of an allegory than a linear storytelling...and it's just keeps getting better with repeated viewings. More things noticed that were missed before...A surprisingly rich film. In it's tone, the movie I would compare"Quintet" to would be Tarkovsky's "Solaris".... I loved "Quintet"! Too bad it's not on DVD!
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Compelling and much better 23 years later
ddrucker-213 June 2002
I saw this movie years ago on a date while I was in college was completely baffled by it (although I think I was one of the few people who liked it a bit nevertheless). Now, with it on the Fox Movie channel, I had a chance to see it again. What a difference a couple of decades makes! In 1979 there was no concept of nuclear winter, but now we all too well have visions of the world dying in the grip of ice. (In fact, some have pointed out that the same emissions that are causing global warming may end up creating exactly the opposite effect; the continuous fouling of the atmosphere will eventually shut out the sun and a new, deadly ice age will engulf the earth.) That said, the idea of hoplessness - of people having nothing to look forward to except the thrill of their game, makes the actions of the game players understandable, even if they are not sympathetic. In this sense, the movie is oddly like other apocalyptic movies like 'On the Beach', where survivors indulge in the ultimate decadence - willful ignorance of survival, a warped echo of their humanity. This is a movie about intrigue, very much like the spy movie involving double agents and double-crossing, but this is also a movie (like the more recent 'Sixth Sense' which also has a clear set of symbolic imagery) about a pervasive set of symbols. Everywhere you see the number 5. Everything comes in fives or pentagrams. There is a marvelous shot of a woman's face in a mirror, framed by a pentagram. The church scene where 'Saint Christopher' is speaking of the 5 stages of life is a droll parody of Christian orthodoxy, a sort of post-nuclear take on predestination, our lot in life, and the futitility of our existence, all ornamented with Latin and ritual. Far less subtle scenes like the 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes' scene where they worship an atomic bomb come to mind. The musical score is also constantly using the rhythm of 5. I found the music as well as the sound design (the constant howling of the wind, and groaning of ice) extraordinary. The ending, in which there are 4 orchestral strikes - the fifth is left out (perhaps symbolizing the fact that the story is left hanging) is suitably unsettling. My only criticism is the acting . Nearly all of he actors (except for Paul Newman) are not native English speakers, and their accents make many lines nearly incomprehensible. This is a shame, given that so many nuances of the plot are dependent on a line here or there. I'm not sure this film would be good remade by David Lynch (as one reviewer has suggested), but I now wonder what re-dubbing actors voices might do for it! Also, the entire film is shot with vaseline around the edges of the lens. While this technique may work as a special effect (and a clichéed one at that!) doing it for the entire movie is just distracting. I'll bet that Altman regretted that decision. 'Quintet' does not deserve the scorn that has been laid on it. It is not Altman's worst film; it is not a mistake. It is instead, an essay regarding what it is to be human, and an experiment in cold claustrophobic tone. In some ways, the experiment is a success - I found many of the images, sounds and music and ideas very memorable. In fact, I'll bet that the movie has had more influence on some filmmakers than we may realise. I'll bet Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and Alex Proyas like this movie. They all have that sensitivity to consistency of tone and vision that this movie has.
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A flawed masterpiece
raidavies-110 December 2005
I am one of those who was haunted by this film on first viewing and watched it for a second time soon afterward and understood - and appreciated - it far more as a result. It's often disingenuous to say that a film which so clearly divided opinion has to have something going for it but, in the case of Quintet, that is pleasingly true. By trawling the other comments about Quintet on the website, you can see that some people have a visceral dislike for the slow pace and unfolding of the film and a discontent with the actions and reactions of characters within it. Others point out that this is precisely the point of the film - it is profoundly nihilistic and demonstrates the breakdown of modern social conventions when a culture is forced to make a dramatic change to itself. Also, Quintet should be taken in the context of Marshall Mcluhan's comment: "the medium is the message". I wish I could claim this next comment as my own, because it's very perceptive, but it came from my then girlfriend: "This must have been what it was like for people in the last ice age, when just surviving was the priority and anything, even killing people, was a welcome break from the tedium". You see, Quintet isn't actually about how a society evolves to meet the challenges of environmental change; it's about how a society devolves to minimise the effect of environmental changes. Having watched this film again just last night, I agree even more with Altman's vision of where the human race is likely to go - I think he is remarkably prescient. Like 'Three Days of the Condor', this is a film that has, with the passing of time, become remarkably relevant to the world in which we live today.
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The elements are there but the execution doesn't work!
gr8tful5 May 2006
Altman's Quintet has to be considered more than just flawed: As so many other reviewers have pointed out, the ideas behind the film, even some of the choices in depicting those ideas, ought to work--and yet very little in this difficult film does. The partially fogged camera lens--I remarked to my wife that it has to be the most distracting directorial conceit I've ever seen--never allowed me to get "into" the film's world.

In general there are serious problems with the mise-en-scene employed here. It's clear that no small amount of thought went into factors like costume and production design, but neither is very effective in evoking a believable world. Perhaps it is a matter of scale; the film is so stage-bound that I laughed out loud once it was mentioned that "five million" people lived in the city. (Yes I understand the constraints of the film's budget. Matte paintings here and there might have helped.) In all the most disappointing Altman film I've ever seen. Great ideas and grand metaphors do not always come through in art--it's just part of the game.
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Too much Vaseline
capitainehaddock14 June 2007
This is one of the many very good performances by Paul Newman, who was always underrated as an actor because of his all-encompassing beauty. The main problem with this movie, in my opinion, is the huge Vaseline budget they had. The whole movie was shot with Vaseline at the edges of the lens. I find that very annoying. When I make the effort to remember not to be annoyed by that "Vaseline experiment", I find it is not a bad movie by a long shot. The cast is brilliant, the futuristic plot is innovative for the period and the decor is intriguingly apt. The smearing of Vaseline on the lens applied to a whole movie may have been innovative, it was certainly daring, but I, for one, like to be able to look at the part of the screen I choose, and not be forbidden to have a clear look at the edges. CH
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pretty good
KyleFurr25 September 2005
I don't know why i had never heard of this movie before with Paul Newman and directed by Robert Altman. This movie doesn't even seem to have a cult following and this must of been a big flop when it came out to be this unknown. A lot of the other people writing comments on this movie seem to really hate it but i actually liked it. I liked the fact that it didn't give any answers about what happened to the earth or even what year it is. The first hour of the movie is very slowing and you really don't know what's going on. I would like to know what Newman and Altman would have to say about this movie now and i guess i can see why so many people hated it even though i liked it.
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I really wanted to like this movie, but...
ejonconrad28 November 2016
I had never heard of this movie until I saw it in an "obscure sci-fi" list. That was surprising, because it sounded like it was right in my wheel house. I love 70s post-apocalyptic sci-fi, I love Paul Newman, and I love Robert Altman movies.

For the record, I loved Zardoz, which is generally regarded as another high-concept misfire, so I had hopes I would like this one in spite of the suspiciously low Rotten Tomatoes score.

Unfortunately, RT was right. This was just boring and terrible. Basically, an ice age has enveloped the Earth and everyone passes their time playing a game called Quintet - and people get killed over it. That's it; that's the plot.

The whole thing had the feel of a pilot for a TV show that was never picked up. You know, like maybe in the next episode, something interesting would happen. There definitely wasn't enough there to stand on its own.

On top of everything else, it takes itself really seriously, so it even fails in the "so bad it's good" category".

I can't recommend watching this movie for any reason whatsoever.
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A hidden gem
SammyK25 December 1999
It's a shame that I'd held off so long before finally watching this film - on TV at midnight, no doubt. Many have criticized and disowned this film, citing it as a low point for Robert Altman and nothing more, but this is an unfair judgement. While it may not deliver to fans of "Nashville" and "M.A.S.H.," "Quintet" is a provocative and eerily unsettling bit of cinematic science fiction. Its depiction of a post-apocalyptic ice age is frighteningly vivid, and its nihilistic theme is perhaps one of the reasons many find it off-putting. However, if you're looking for a diamond in the rough, "Quintet" could quite possibly be the movie you're looking for. Altman may not be in top form here, but he certainly creates a vision worth noticing.

* A point of note - "Quintet" was filmed at the old Expo '67 site in Montréal, Québec, adding to the film's vision of decay and abandonment.
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A turn about opinion
enkiduu11 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
When I first saw Quintet in the Theater I was bored to tears. I couldn't understand why my best friend had dragged me all the way into Berkeley to watch such a slow paced, dull movie. Paul Newman's performance was so dead pan I thought, what is going on with this guy?

Well, despite this, something about it must have made an impression though, because a few years later I rented it on tape and gave the movie another try. I was surprised by how different the movie seemed to me. I watched it again a day later and thought, "Wow, this movie has a lot going on."

I appreciated the underlying theme that life is more than simply surviving - otherwise it becomes a sort of twisted addiction of playing a game with death. Essex's question , "What do I win?" and it's hollow answer of "The chance to play again" pretty much sums up the generation we find ourselves a part of as well.

I know this is a flawed movie, but somehow it has become one of my favorites. I still have it on beta and am hoping it comes out in a restored letterbox version with the frosted window effect I remember from the theater. It is a cold movie and you are expected to watch it from arms length - once you get hat, the movie begins to come into focus.

If you hated the move the first time, give it another try.
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