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Cast:Robert Altman, Paul Newman, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey

Perhaps the least seen but most talked about film of Robert Altman's career, Quintet is a somber science fiction tale that takes place after a nuclear holocaust has thrown the world into another Ice Age. A man named Essex (Paul Newman), his pregnant wife Vivia (Brigitte Fossey), and her brother Francha (Tom Hill) are wandering the desolate, frozen landscape when they run across a handful of fellow survivors who pass their time playing a mysterious game called "Quintet." No one is able to explain just how it's played, but Grigor (Fernando Rey) appears to act as the referee, and the stakes of the game are unusually high -- after Vivia and Francha lose, they're killed in a mysterious explosion. Essex is not happy with the way they've been dragged into the village's game of death, but, as he attempts to seek revenge, he is only drawn deeper into the lethal competition. While Quintet received negative reviews on its initial release, in retrospect it's worth noting that the photography (by Jean Boffety) and production design (by Leon Ericksen) are beautiful and striking, and that the film boasts one of Altman's strongest international casts, including Vittorio Gassman, Nina Van Pallandt, and Bibi Andersson, as befits its European-art-movie ambiance; the influence of the equally opaque, allegorical, game-playing Last Year at Marienbad (1961) is especially strong. Mark Deming

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