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The first English-language film from Alain Resnais, this drama about a spiteful, alcoholic novelist contains the French director's typically playful surrealist touches and recurring use of characters shackled by memory. John Gielgud stars as Clive Langham, a drunken author in failing health who spends an increasingly intoxicated evening at his Rhode Island estate working on his new novel. Clive bases the characters in the melodramatic story on his own family, including his two sons, Claude (Dirk Bogarde) and the illegitimate Kevin (David Warner), as well as Claude's wife Sonia (Ellen Burstyn). Imagining a bitter love triangle full of spite between the three protagonists of his tale, Clive uses generous doses of imagination and symbolism, including a discordant soccer player (Denis Lawson) related to Kevin and werewolves. When his real-life family appears for a meal with Clive, however, they are not quite the embittered, devious players in the author's booze-fueled fiction. Although dividing critics between those delighted with Resnais' comic flourishes and others annoyed by his arty pretensions, Providence (1977) swept the Cesar Awards, France's Oscar equivalent, winning seven including Best Director for Resnais. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi … More
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Critic Reviews for Providence
The superb performances and Miklos Rozsa's sumptuous Hollywood-style score give the film's conceit a moving monumentality and depth, and Resnais' insights into the fiction-making process are mesmerizing and beautiful.
Misunderstood and underrated when it came out, Resnais first English-speaking film is a provocative meditation on time and memory, fiction and reality (his dominant themes) in the life of a dying novelist, astoundly played by John Gielgud.
A superb instance of inventive filmmaking with a comic touch and an intellectual theme.
Audience Reviews for Providence
i wasn't aware resnais had made english language films but this is a fine example. wonderful cast including john gielgud as a wicked novelist in his waning years contorting his family into characters for his latest book, and dirk bogarde as his eldest son, whose relationship with his father seems strained at best. one of resnais' typically experimental structures, using imagination, flashbacks and dreams to explore time and memory. very enjoyableMore
Struggling to finish his last novel before cancer finishes him, Clive Langham (John Gielgud), a celebrated writer, concocts an elaborate and spiteful fantasy featuring the members of his immediate family. Where to begin... Both in form and content, this has to be one of the most forbiddingly complex movies I have ever seen! Make no mistake, this is a difficult piece of work, and I won't pretend to have fully digested it after just a single viewing. I'm fumbling in the dark here but I'll try my best...
Punctuated by false starts, digressions and revisions, Langham's dreams - which begin as an impotent revenge on his disapproving son (Dirk Bogarde) - are every bit as restless as the ailing author himself, whose spasms of pain seem to manifest themselves as sinister incidental details: an old man collapses in the street, people are rounded up by the military, we see glimpses of concentration camps and there are ominous rumblings of terrorism in the distance. The most startling moment, in a film filled with surprises, comes when we finally get to meet Langham's relatives outside the confines of his imagination, roughly 3/4 of the way through the film; they bear little or no resemblance to the people Langham has introduced us to! This is surely the major theme of the movie: the extent to which Langham's perception of his family has been distorted by pain, guilt and alcohol.
My two criticisms of the movie are as follows: 1) Whereas in a film like Céline and Julie Go Boating there is an infectious joy to all the formal experimentation, because the subject matter of Resnais' movie is so dark, Providence manages to be playful without ever being much fun. 2) The scatological vein of humour running through the film undermines much of the sophistication. Bogarde and, especially, Gielgud are brilliant. Miklós Rózsa contributes a gorgeous, darkly romantic score.
In "Providence," Ken Woodford(David Warner), a soldier, is on trial for murder. Ken claims that the man he killed wanted to be put out of his misery to spare him an excruciating death. Luckily, for him, the jury believes him. That does not make Claude Langham(Dirk Bogarde), the prosecutor, any happier in losing the case. At the same time, Claude's wife, Sonia(Ellen Burstyn) tries to befriend and then seduce Ken which fails. In response, Claude's elderly father Clive(John Gielgud), a writer, creates Helen(Elaine Stritch) for Claude, who also bears an uncanny resemblence to Clive's late wife.
First the obvious. "Providence" is a weird movie. That just goes to show you what happens when Alain Resnais makes a movie in English about somebody trying to create his own fantasy world like Clive does here, with unpredictable reality constantly intruding. At first, the military dictatorship depicted in the film may seem like science fiction but the mass arrests in the soccer stadium are meant to I think reflect the then current situation in Pinochet's Chile. Overall, the movie takes place nowhere and everywhere with the only clue being that everybody reads New York Magazine. In any case, the absurdist elements do not work anywhere near as well as the average episode of Monty Python in this movie that simply goes on too long.
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