PROVIDENCE (Alain Resnais, 1977)

How does one evaluate Alain Resnais’s first English-language film, which he directed haplessly from a tricky, overwritten script by playwright David Mercer that includes, however, a coda that soars? At night a portentous camera slowly roams the grounds of Providence, the luxuriant estate of dying British author Clive Langham, who, indoors, is imagining his new novel, whose main characters are somewhat maliciously based on his son, prosecutor Claud[e], illegitimate son Kevin and daughter-in-law Sonia, Claud[e]’s wife. In the film’s long, bad part, we see these fictional imaginings of Clive’s as though they inhabit reality, with inserts of Clive at work, or accompanied by his voiceover. In the poignantly brief, lovely coda, the occasion of Clive’s seventy-eighth birthday has brought celebrants Claud[e], Sonia and Kevin to Providence, where their afternoon dinner takes place outdoors.
     Clive is an atheist, but it is not for nothing that his home is named Providence. “I disapprove of death,” he explains. “You begin to sniff the temptation of believing in something.” At the end of this odious, laborious film, we realize that the nasty novel upon which Clive is working, if only in his mind, like its predecessors helps ensure that he doesn’t collapse into God’s phantom, that is to say, non-existent arms.
     The film concludes with a killer line—Clive’s premonition of his imminent end. Clive has asked his guests to leave “without kiss or touch.” He is thus seated at table alone. He has been drinking wine. He fills his glass, saying to himself aloud, “I think there’s time for just one more.”
     Providence won seven Césars including best film, direction, script; the French critics also named it best film. John Gielgud (best actor, New York critics) is terrible as Clive until the coda, where he is moving and haunting.

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