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Film / Quintet

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Quintet is a 1979 Science Fiction film directed and co-written by Robert Altman (his only pure Science Fiction film)note , starring Paul Newman, Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey, and Vittorio Gassman.

It's humanity's last gasp as an ice age covers the earth and mankind is pushed to the fringes of existence. Once great-cities now lie in ruins as people forage for food and dogs eat corpses in the streets. With no future and only the barest sense of civilization, a mania arises for a Tabletop Game called Quintet, where a group of six people (five players and a "sixth man") compete for the opportunity to "kill" one another, with the ultimate goal of becoming the final survivor. Essex (Newman), a hunter who's run out of game to hunt, returns to his devastated home city and stumbles on some people who have taken the game a little too far...


This movie provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: Watching the film cold, it's a struggle to figure out the rules of Quintet. When it was released in theaters, audience members actually received a pamphlet that spelled everything out very specifically.
  • And Starring: Vittorio Gassman gets this credit.
  • Anyone Can Die: The whole point of the game, but also some surprises in the story itself, like Vivia dying just a half-hour into the film.
  • Apocalypse How: Appears to be heading somewhere between Class 4 and Class 5.
  • Arc Number: Naturally for a film called Quintet, 5.
  • Author Appeal: Robert Altman reportedly loved Turn-Based Strategy Tabletop Games, especially Backgammon, so the opportunity to create a new game from scratch was a major reason he did the film.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Grigor and Ambrosia.
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  • Combat Referee: Grigor.
  • Corrupt Church: St. Christopher seems to represent what little religion is left in the world, running a rescue mission when he's really a violent player of a Deadly Game.
  • Crapsack World: To the point that there are roving bands of dogs feeding on human corpses.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Essex when he takes over Redstone's identity.
  • Deadly Game: There's the harmless parlor game version of Quintet, then the more serious gambling version, and finally the secret real life version where the killing is genuine.
  • Endless Winter: Notably, there's no explanation for why things have become frozen.
  • Film Noir: This piece argues that it's a Film Noir in a Post-Apocalyptic setting. Essex is a de facto Private Detective who's investigating a group of people hiding a huge secret, and he even deals with a Femme Fatale (Ambrosia).
  • Gaia's Lament: An ice age has put life on its last legs. Even seals have become extinct.
  • Gratuitous Latin: St. Christopher is prone to dropping Latin phrases into his conversation.
  • Hope Spot: A rare example of one occurring early in the story when it's discovered that Vivia is pregnant, a near-miraculous event. She's killed by a bomb directly after.
  • In-Camera Effects: Most of the film was shot through a custom-made filter that only kept an O-shape in the center of the frame focused and the rest of the shot blurred (often incorrectly assumed to be Vaseline smeared on the lens). Even people who like the film find it distracting.
  • Just Before the End: Everyone seems to know there's only a short amount of time before life ends on Earth.
  • Monochrome Casting: Apparently only Americans and Europeans have survived the ice age.
  • Stuffed in the Fridge: Vivia.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: When Essex ends up as the only survivor of the game, he goes to Grigor to claim whatever prize he's owed. Grigor tells him that the prize is simply survival and the satisfaction of having cheated death.


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