Quintet (1979): Altman’s Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi

Made before the post-apocalyptic sci-fi became a genre onto itself, Quintet is nonetheless a vastly disappointing film, full of half-worked ideas and charaters, and lacking unified vision–or any vision at all.

The film doesn’t really benefit from its international cast, composed of some of the best actors working in world cinema, Paul Newman, Brigitte Fossey, Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey, Vittorio Gassman and Nina Van Pallandt.

Set during a new ice age, the tale begins in a frozen tundra that’s seemingly deserted–that is until two distant figures are spotted by the camera. They are the seal hunter Essex (Newman) and his pregnant companion Vivia (Brigitte Fossey), the daughter of one of Essex’s hunting partners. They are traveling north, hoping to reunite with Essex’s brother, Francha (Thomas Hill).

The reunion is short-lived. While Essex is buying firewood, gambler Redstone (Craig Richard Nelson) throws a bomb into Francha’s place, killing everyone inside, including Vivia. Essex sees Redstone fleeing the scene and chases him to the “Information Room.” He then witnesses Redstone’s murder by Italian gambler St. Christopher (Vittorio Gassman).

Searching Redstone’s pockets, Essex finds a paper with the names of Francha, Redstone, Goldstar, Deuca, St. Christopher, and Ambrosia.

The diffuse plot (such as it is) unfolds an an self-indulgent puzzle, but one that lack interest and is ultimately dull.

Some critics pointed out that the script was derivative of the 1965 Italian comedy, The 10th Victim (La decima vittima), directed by Elio Petri and starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.