Providence (1977)

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Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

French New Waver Alain Resnais directs his first film in English. Sir John Gielgud plays Clive Langham, an author contemplating a vicious novel about his worthless relatives as he lies sick in bed. But they are not the monsters he perceives them to be, and they try to nurse him back to health.

Cast

John Gielgud
as Clive Langham
Dirk Bogarde
as Claude Langham
Ellen Burstyn
as Sonia Langham
David Warner
as Kevin Langham / Kevin Woodford
Elaine Stritch
as Helen Weiner/Molly Langham
Denis Lawson
as Dave Woodford
Cyril Luckham
as Dr. Mark Eddington
Milo Sperber
as Mr. Jenner
Anna Wing
as Karen
Tanya Lopert
as Miss Lister
Samson Fainsilber
as Old Hairy Man
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Critic Reviews for Providence

All Critics (8) | Top Critics (2)

Providence is a lot of fuss and fake feathers about nothing.

May 9, 2005 | Rating: 2/5

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.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

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.

Jul 2, 2008 | Rating: A- | Full Review…

It's one of the best films from the 1970s.

Aug 15, 2007 | Rating: A | Full Review…

A superb instance of inventive filmmaking with a comic touch and an intellectual theme.

Aug 29, 2006 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Though it may be irritating after one single viewing, after many, Providence strangely becomes moving and profound.

Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Providence

New Wave icon Alain Resnais continues to test his audience with the marvelous "Providence," a surreal tale in which a dying, cantankerous novelist (John Gielgud, never better) uses people from his life as placeholders to map out an unfinished book. The bulk of the film's action is taken straight from the writer's head and thus is pure fantasy. As if Gielgud's presence isn't impressive enough, the cast is loaded with other world-class talents such as Dirk Bogarde (dark and testy as ever), Ellen Burstyn, Elaine Stritch and David Warner. Warner does seem somewhat miscast, mainly seen as a guileless naif -- it's best to view this performance alongside early roles like "Morgan: A Suitable Case of Treatment" and "Work Is a 4-Letter Word" and forget all the sadistic villains he played later. The internal story is primarily a love triangle in which Burstyn cheats on husband Bogarde with Warner. There's also a bizarre, undeveloped werewolf motif that hopefully was deleted from the book's final draft (this is a work in progress, after all). "Providence" is a delightful brainteaser -- just do your best to ignore how grating the characters' incessant wine-slurping becomes.

Eric Broome
Eric Broome

Super Reviewer

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.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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 enjoyable

Stella Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer

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.

Stephen M
Stephen M

Super Reviewer

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