Claude Chabrol Diane Jacobs - Essay

Diane Jacobs

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At first glance Henry James' "Bench Of Desolation" seems an odd choice of subject matter for a Claude Chabrol film. A rather low-keyed short story pivoting around a fastidious rare-book shop owner, "Bench Of Desolation" is a far cry from such recent Chabrol oeuvres as Wedding in Blood and Nada. Nevertheless, Bench of Desolation is the finest short film I've seen in years, and I suspect that its success, like that of Chabrol's "Hitchcockian" works, is directly related to an aesthetic tension—in this case the tension between the auteur's sensibility and the author's craft….

[Chabrol] has always been fascinated with the darker aspects of complacency (most often bourgeois complacency) and the ambivalences of apparent good versus evil; thus his sympathy with James is as natural as his intuitive empathy for Lang.

Both James and Chabrol are concerned with the idiosyncrasies of the particular, and the discrepancies in their thematic preoccupations are reflected more in style than in substance. While the former tends to implode and distill, the latter is inclined to dazzle and externalize. In Bench of Desolation, we are treated to the best of both worlds….

The sensibilities of James and Chabrol coalesce most beautifully at the end of the film when Dodd is once again seated on his bench of desolation—this time with a transformed Kate. In deference to James, Chabrol has eschewed his habitual outward manifestations of passion—the deus ex machina violence that arises in all his other works to finish off plot, theme, and usually at least one major character as well. Nonetheless, when we watch the camera pull back to reveal Kate's body entangling Dodd, we are aware that she has killed Nan as sure as any Chabrol lover ever killed his or her rival. More important, in accepting Kate's succor, the apparently victimized Dodd has become a posthumous collaborator in his wife's death, the recipient in Chabrol's habitual transfer of guilt.

Diane Jacobs, "Claude Chabrol's 'The Bench of Desolation': Implosions Externalized," in Take One (copyright © 1973 by Unicorn Publishing Corp.), Vol. 4, No. 6, July-August, 1973, p. 26.