Film (1979). Lion's Gate/Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Frank Barhydt, Altman, Patricia Resnick, from a story by Altman, Lionel Chetwynd, Resnick. Cast includes Bibi Andersson, Brigitte Fossey, Vittorio Gassman, David Langton, Paul Newman, Fernando Rey and Nina Van Pallandt. 118 minutes. Colour.
This strange film, critically crucified on release, is perhaps better than the then-consensus suggested. Newman is the seal-hunter in an (apparently) Post-Holocaust frozen future, a new Ice Age, who with his pregnant wife joins a dying but still crowded city, where corpses are left in the snow for the dogs to eat, where nobody is born any more, and where anomie is held at bay only by obsessive playing of the game Quintet. This is played either as a Board Game or in real life; in the latter case five people must be killed and only one will survive. Newman's wife (Fossey) is accidentally killed during a game attack (along with Earth's last foetus), and Newman vengefully joins the game, wins, killing his new lover (Andersson) in the process, and vanishes back into the snow. The obvious reading is that of the still vigorous, romantic hero destroying a corrupt society. Another plausible reading is that the death-focused game is all the real life that is left, and that the hero's despising it is itself a sterile act of turning away: the hero as lost fool. The imagery is strong, the pace glacial and the theme overintellectualized; the deliberately international cast sounds most of the time very uncomfortable with English (though the very alienation that suggests is appropriate to the story). Quintet bores the watcher, yet lingers for years in the mind. [PN]
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