Providence (1977) - Rotten Tomatoes

Providence (1977)





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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, Rovimore
Rating: R
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
In Theaters:


Elaine Stritch
as Helen Weiner
Samson Fainsilber
as Old Hairy Man
Tanya Lopert
as Miss Lister
Milo Sperber
as Mr. Jenner
Anna Wing
as Karen
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Providence

Critic Reviews for Providence

All Critics (11) | Top Critics (4)

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

Full Review… | May 9, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

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.

Full Review… | July 2, 2008

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

Full Review… | August 15, 2007
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

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 enjoyable

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

Super Reviewer

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

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