Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Altman|
|Produced by||Robert Altman|
|Written by||Frank Barhydt
Nina Van Pallandt
|Music by||Tom Pierson|
|Edited by||Dennis M. Hill|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
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.
- Paul Newman as Essex
- Vittorio Gassman as Saint Christopher
- Fernando Rey as Grigor
- Bibi Andersson as Ambrosia
- Brigitte Fossey as Vivia, Essex's Wife
- Nina Van Pallandt as Deuca
- David Langton as Goldstar
- Thomas Hill as Francha
- Monique Mercure as Redstone's Mate
- Craig Richard Nelson as Redstone
- Maruska Stankova as Jaspera
- Anne Gerety as Aeon
- Michel Maillot as Obelus
- Max Fleck as Wood Supplier
- Françoise Berd as Charity house woman
Upon release, the film was not a critical or commercial success, with many reviewers criticizing the film's slow pace, writing and somber nature. The film holds a 'rotten' rating of 13% on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.
Since then, the film has gained a limited cult following, with praise towards its themes and bleak visual aesthetic. John Kenneth Muir argued that the film had many merits, and said that it was "worthy of patience, one crafted with real dedication, and with seemingly no consideration for commercial interests. The film is not merely bleak, it is intentionally, irrevocably hopeless. It goes out of its way, actually, to kill off "hope" in the first act."
- Robert Altman interviewed by Charles Michener Michener, CharlesView Profile. Film Comment14.5 (Sep/Oct 1978): 15-18,80.
- Quintet fan page
- Quintet at the Internet Movie Database
- Quintet at Rotten Tomatoes
- Quintet at AllRovi