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Don't be put off by what people (including lovers of the film) say about its initially being confusing. Even the first time through, it is madly enjoyable second by second, and it needn't take long to figure out what is going on. In fact, once you know that we are into a dying man's dreams/fantasies/wishes regarding his own family, you have all you need to make sense of virtually everything straight off. By the end, everything has locked into place in a most satisfying way. The contrast between the man's dreams about his family and what you see when they appear in person near the end is one of the most delicious things in the whole of art.
How often do we awake from our dreams in a sweat, not knowing what is real
and what is illusion? Especially if we are feverish, our dreams can turn
close friends or family members into ogres and hateful creatures (or
possibly werewolves) who are bent on our destruction. Such is the case with
novelist Clive Langham (John Gielgud), a dying 78 year-old writer who is
working on his final novel in the playfully bizarre 1977 English language
film, Providence, by Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at
Marienbad, Muriel). The film depicts how physical and mental anguish can
distort our view of reality. A poetic screenplay by playwright David Mercer
and powerful performances by John Gielgud, Ellen Burstyn, Dirk Bogarde,
Elaine Strich, and David Warner provide strong support.
Clive does not go gentle into that good night. During one horrific night, all the pain of his life and disturbing family relationships boil to the surface. In the novel being played out in the author's mind, his family members, sons Claude (Dirk Bogarde) and Kevin (David Warner), and Claude's wife Sonia (Ellen Burstyn), mysteriously become the main protagonists, assuming roles as prosecutors and defendants, feuding spouses, and extra-marital lovers. As Clive goes deeper into the maelstrom, images become more and more hallucinatory. The denouement is witty, baffling, irritating, and then finally transcendent. To say that the ending is a surprise is a major understatement.
Providence may exasperate you but, if you have patience, it can be a richly rewarding experience. As with all thought provoking and multi-layered films, multiple viewing may be required for full appreciation. Providence was voted the greatest film of the '70s by an international jury of critics and, at Telluride, Norman Mailer called it "the greatest film ever made on the creative process".
This is one of the strangest movies I know. French intellectual aesthete
meets contemporary British playwright - this should be the title of
Providence. When two completely different cultures meet for a common
project, the risk of failure is enormous. But in this case something
interestingly and uniquely hilarious was created. Providence is a feverish
dream that was successfully created for the screen.
The dream sequences of an old, dying writer, played by John Gielgud are absurd in a very British way. John Gielguds's upper class "king's English" voice-over adds effectively to its strangeness. As usual in contemporary British plays, sex and bowel movements are of the utmost importance . no, the script as a whole is neither very original nor particularly funny. I liked the incongruous, illogical situations though. Every now and then, in the most impossible situations, a strange, sickly looking football player (he seems to have fallen off Monty Python's Flying Circus) jogs limply past.
Director Alain Resnais is responsible for the dreamscapes, and they make Providence worth watching. Real settings are artfully distorted into haunting, surreal spatial sequences. Foreground and background, light and darkness, different textures and beautiful color arrangements are expertly arranged into a world of its own that is never too far from reality. One is sometimes reminded of Magritte's surrealistic paintings. Strange sounds add to the almost psychedelic effect the dream scenes have.
The acting is remarkable, especially Dirk Bogarde as the writer's slick, cynical «dream son» gives an outstanding performance.
A double header of complex imagination (first part) and painful
recrimination (second part) in this film of deep feeling and hurt seen
through the eyes of the dying author (John Gielgud). David Mercer's script
includes all his life long angst of the relationship of father and son,
although now in his final years fought out with more complex and
participating female characters in the ghost of his dead wife, who doubles
as his son's mistress (Elaine Stritch) and daughter-in-law (Ellen
The acting is pure poetry with John Geilgud at his refined best as the drunken and dying author in part celebrating his life of drunken womanising and in part regretting the pain that he has caused, in particular to his family. Dirk Borgarde performing the impossible task of being two imaginary characters and one real one with seemless effort. As the son of the dying author he carries all the pain and hatreds of the dying father both in the old man's fantasy and in his real life of inherited disillusionment. His relationship with his wife and mistress (in practice his mother! complex eh!) changes from the deeply loving to the perceive accusatory of the old man's increasingly drunken imagination.
Ellen Burstyn gives one of her finest film performances as the long suffering wife ,but in the end all the plaudits go to the writer. The style may be only that of the one-liner but each of them hits as an aphorism from the greatest of philosophical minds. The revolving characters of the final part of the authors dreaming make a bewildering tapestry of the imagination.
A fabulous movie, but one that will take many viewings to actually comprehend the complexities of it. Set that video!!
Not enough can truly be said for this film. Equally, nothing can change people's reaction to it; it is an art piece which separates people. Early reviews from the period of its release seem unfriendly at least. Many reviewers found the film pretentious and constructionally difficult. Many claimed it attempted more mystery than it had a right to. I feel this was a film ahead of its time, and any pomposity in the film comes not from its center, but from its central character, Clive Langham (John Gielgud). This, more than almost any film of the 20th century, is a film which rewards the viewer for multiple viewings. If you are often accused of being obsessive, overly-analytic or just plain artsy, this film will tickle you in some very personal places. The message I will refuse to comment on, though it is very deeply personal to me, and, I would say, to all writers. But the "crux of the biscuit," if you will, is this: examine the title in relation to the film.
This film is a rare treat in which both the head and the heart are dazzled by a real work of art. Alain Renais' beautiful and brilliant "Providence" might play as intellectual absurdism at first glance, until one realizes the point of view from which the movie is being told. It's a pity we had to wade through decades of tedious, stilted performances from Geilgud, but it was worth the wait because in "Providence" he springs full flower with a stunning turn as a second-rate British novelist, who will never be as good as Graham Greene. Geilgud is ably supported by Bogarde, Burstyn, and Warner as his seeming calous children. Powerful stuff.
Since so many good comments have been written here, mostly on the
psychological side of the characters, and they are all excellent, I
decided to comment upon a very present entity and that is WINE.
Notice that, until the last scene, everybody drinks white, mostly CHABLIS, an acid one. But on that last scene Resnais shifts to RED. It is no accident, it has in my modest opinion, a way that illustrates a very fundamental change in the feelings that occurred in that lunch.
Criticism and over-analysis, ever present till that event, give way to peaceful acceptance of the characters by the father, Without hypocrite sensibility, that he refuses, but with warmth and tolerance.
Well, I do believe, by some 55 years of experience, that white wine (dry, European style) makes one restless and sometimes bitter.
Red wine makes one more relaxed and happy.
I do not know which kind of wine Resnais prefers, but since he is a Breton I would not be surprised, that it is WHITE. Maybe that is the reason why His movies are so difficult to decode. They are also some of the most magnificent works of cinematic art..
In Providence, his only film in English Language, Resnais again approaches the most recurrent subject in his career: the memory. Here, he explores how one's feelings can affect it: the life of the writer reflects directly on his view of his son and the wife of this one, and their respective (supposed) lovers, which actually are a representation of the writer's alienation, guilt and self-depreciation. It shows how memory can be more painful than any pain of the flesh, and even worse than reality itself. Like everything i've seen from Resnais so far (Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Mon Oncle D'Amérique and one of my favorite films, Last Year in Marienbad), this one is a very deep and original masterpiece.
Renais "Providence" has all the hallmarks of cinema at its artistic
best. Every component of film making is expertly handled. David
Mercer's literary screenplay is a joy to listen to, especially when
delivered by the likes of Dirk Bogarde and of course the legendary John
Gielgud. The visuals are haunting and perfectly shot with detailed
attention to set and costume. Miklos Rosza's soundtrack is in total
accordance with the work as a whole, never intrusive, while adding to
the rich tapestry that is "Providence". Renais too has assembled a
wonderful if somewhat odd cast, which suitably serve this somewhat odd
Gielgud plays a dying author whose mind is racing with fantasies peopled by members of his family. His character Clive Langham is depicted as a ribald, sensual, womanizer. Yet his fantasies, making up the bulk of the film, are curiously cold and stark. They are played in bleak settings with an ever present sense of impending catastrophe, though remaining totally devoid of emotion. These imaginings are at completely at odds with their creator. The extreme incongruousness of these fantasies with the character to whom they belong, remains a mystery. This detracts much in the way of emotional impact which is very much lacking in the film, whether intentional or not. The elimination of emotion leaves "Providence" a cold, wonderfully intelligent exercise in the art of film making.
Renais has assembled an intriguing cast headed by the superb Gielgud. Dirk Bogarde whose performances have often been tinged with a cold, sauve superciliousness brings this unpleasant quality to an unparalleled level of extremity. Even the usually over emoting Ellen Burstyn delivers a restrained performance. Elaine Stritch has to be the oddest choice for the role being so contrary to her well known persona. Never has a more unlikely coupling been presented than Stitch and Bogarde as lovers. Yet in this emotionless void, even that becomes acceptable.
"Providence" is a highly unusual, important film and shouldn't be missed by the discerning film enthusiast. Yet despite the wealth of cinematic craft on display it remains an unsatisfying experience.
A dying artist, beautifully acted by Fainsilber, struggles to complete one last book before he dies - the plot of which becomes confused with his own troubled life as he thinks and dreams his way through the night. This was the first film in English for master film-maker Alain Resnais, and also happens to be one of his best. Using a variety of surreal cinematic techniques, Resnais is able to capture the characters of everyone in the film perfectly and his style - combined with excellent scripting - makes for an experience that will not be forgotten. Although the first half of the film will probably be spent in confusion, before you actually realise what is going on - I had to see this film several times before I was satisfied - it is worth struggling to understand this complex and thoroughly entertaining artistic movie.
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