|You can tell already it's bleak as his blue eyes have gone gray.|
|"No Dogs Allowed" "... Oh really?"|
It is something adventurous and strange, which I can always get behind, but Altman's problems are two-fold: first, his world is obtuse, with only such limited context that the viewer is forced to immediately understand the grim stakes at hand. I appreciate that a director doesn't want to coddle the audience with something so quickly understood, but Altman goes the opposite, extreme approach. I wasn't even sure if it was a post-apocalyptic or post-something or close-to-sci-fi movie (maybe more of a sci-parable?) until quite a ways into the movie, with the only initial hint of despair at the very rare sight of a Canadian Swan in the sky flying north. And the game itself doesn't need to be completely explained, sure, but at least a hint of what it's main thing is all about.
|Uh... yeah I don't get it either|
In a sense the plot of this movie could be captivating, or in a studio hack's possession kind of silly or trying-to-be-edgy. I can definitely hand Altman this, the movie has edge, enough to make one wince. It's also confused in how it shows us this world; the director goes back, I guess, to the soft-focus kind of look he used so well (and not quite as much) in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a lens effect or slide of some sort that makes the sides of the frames fuzzy. I can only speculate why he chose to do this: maybe to attain some kind of reverence in this world, or sadness, or of something that was lost, or ironically it being set in some unknowable future a sense of timelessness. Whatever way it was it just gets distracting to have there. Only the close-ups, on the likes of Newman and Ingmar Bergman regular Bibi Andersson, seem to lack this effect.
|Where's a sexually charged monologue when you really need it?|
The other issue is how bleak it is, how relentlessly so, and how it takes itself so goddamn seriously. This... I didn't have as much of an issue with as I thought, or that I could have expected from the reviews. I was more annoyed- or I should say, sometimes, just bored- by how Altman doled out the information of the text of the movie. That is to say characters speaking in platitudes interspersed with scenes of graphic violence (mostly throat-cutting and stabbings by large knives and swords), and punctuated by a similarly jagged score by Tom Pierson. It is haunting and effective in some parts, and in others like when a character is simply walking around it gets overbearing.
But there are a couple of other aspects that did keep me interested, at least on the whole. One of these is, naturally, its star Newman, who is able to be there as one channel (or the only one) for the audience to view in on this world; since he's perhaps the only character without his head far up his ass or possibly conspiring for murder outright, he has some semblance of sanity to him, albeit fogged up by one person in a scene pontificating about the "unknowables" or something like it. But he can hold his own in the role, and it helps, even as he, like us, is perplexed by what he sees. The other thing are the dogs; like vultures they're the scavengers, the ones in the cast who don't beat around the bush, especially with so many frozen carcasses piling up in the paths and interiors of this world. They're a fine, dark motif to have in a film that's metee is desolation.
|I'm contemplating a 'brrr'.|
So, Quintet isn't much fun, and you may curse Altman for even attempting the project to start with once its two long hours are over. I can't be dismissive of such a work that has an artist trying to show us something different and odd, possibly innovative in a run-down lived-in Alien-era sort of way, and with a sincerity and style that can be thought provoking and (on occasion) emotionally gripping, mostly thanks to a few key moments with Newman and Andersson. Yet I also understand where its derisive reputation comes from: it's a work that veers, or steps right over the bright yellow line, of pretention and doesn't give a shit to come back. As it's a work more about how characters are about in this world than the story itself, it's a tough nut to crack. It's like a brooding, intelligent 16-year old who has a real gift of drawing, but it's all too grim and gruesome and hard to reach.