Robert Bresson's masterful investigation of crime and redemption tells the story of arrogant, young Michel, who spends his days learning the art of picking pockets in the streets, subway cars, and train stations of Paris. ... more »As Michel grows bolder and more a« less
Complex Film About A Man's Search For Significance
A.Trendl HungarianBookstore.com | Glen Ellyn, IL USA | 06/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Pickpocket" never grabs us the way a standard movie does. The plot is difficult to extract, and the storyline is never as easy to understand as we might like. Minimalism is at play, although it never overtakes this complex film about a man's search for meaning in the bowels of his own soul.
Just as with movies like "Passion of the Christ," or "Clockwork Orange," my appreciation of the movie is not because I felt good throughout, but because throughout the movie, I was able to think about what makes humankind and the shape of redemption.
"Pickpocket" is an art house film, with its long vignette style, with Hitchcock-like shots and film noir-like shadowing.
Michel, the main character, develops a desperate fetish for pickpocketing. He learns to be good at the techniques of pickpocketing. He practices wrist watch stealing with the leg of a table as the arm.
No one is lonelier than Michel in his fetish. He knows it is wrong and is unable to face his own mother. His eyes are almost always downturned. They are partly looking for the next steal, and partly unable to face the real world.
All of Michel's relationships are void of passion and intimacy. The closest relationship is that with a police inspector who knows Michel is a thief but chooses not to prove it. He sees good in Michel and tries to steer him out of the lifestyle.
Throughout, Michel is selfish, even when he gives his mother money. That is to appease his guilt, not to lift his mother's finances or encourage her spirits.
Michel, unable to escape his fetish, justifies criminals at large by suggesting some, as artisans of their craft, should retain a kind of freedom to steal. However, he never describes the noble benefit, like James Bond's license to kill provides, which in Bond's case is to save the Queen, and, ostensibly, the world. Rather, it is by the merit of being good at his craft that he would thinks should be enough, but the inspector, nor Michel himself, are ever truly convinced.
Jeanne, the plainly attractive neighbor who often cares for his mom, is strangely interested in him. They have only a matter-of-fact connection, not sensual or romantic in any way. She represents a meaningful existentiality, living as the lover to Michel's friend Jacques (who she does not really love), and helping her elderly neighbor. Michel's as existential as Jeanne, but without the redeeming selflessness that makes Jeanne more human.
Michel dearly wants redemption, and knows his futile lifestyle can only end in despair. He wants more, and when confronted with the likelihood of being arrested, he leaves Paris for several years. When he returns, he learns Jeanne has a child of a long-gone lover.
The opportunity for redemption is clear to audience, but is it to Michel? And what would it look like for a man as obsessed with his own desires as he is, since redemption requires us to look outside of ourselves to live a better life?
I fully recommend "Pickpocket."
Anthony Trendl editor, HungarianBookstore.com"
Doug Anderson | Miami Beach, Florida United States | 01/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"All of Bressons films deal with some character who does not fit into society for some reason. His heros are all rebels like Dostoyevsky's hero's(Pickpocket is based on a Dostoyevsky story) and Camus'. They are stories about people who do not fit in and while studying just how and why they don't fit in Bresson also studies society itself. Some of his movies are just plain bleak but this one has an ending that makes this film unique among this directors work. I think it is rightly singled out as the best though that doesn't mean it's the only one worth seeing. His films are complex and the more of them you see the more his films makes sense. Bresson is a director who does demand his viewers think and he frames his scenes in a way that rebels against cinematic norms in the same way his characters rebel against societal norms but in that style is much substance. If you are only going to see one Bresson film this is the one to see but if you want to see more I would suggest L'Argent after this one. Diary of a Country Priest is excellent but I think best appreciated by those who have already grown familiar with Bresson's style. Each of his films are quite unique and one of my favorites is Lancelot of the Lake which is a most interesting re-telling of that famous legend."
Probably the most strongly visual sound film ever made.
Joe Beirne | New York, NY United States | 11/22/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Bresson could not bear the slightest compromise in favor of the commonplace or the obvious, and had a uniquely disciplined way with actors (he called them "models") and the un-received language of film. This is usually called his "best" film, but he is so completely pure a filmmaker that viewing every one of his distinct, original films is neccesary to fully comprehend him. "Pickpocket" is itself genuinely unforgettable."
Pickpocket Brilliantly Dissects the Human Psyche in the Shad
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 01/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Bresson's genius rests in his awareness that actions often reflect on reality, as the action is something that physically affects its surroundings. By stripping the scenes from emotions and only displaying the actions with complete strangers, the audience gets a sense of genuine presence through the character's actions. To further the meaning of the action, Bresson displays a minimal amount of reactions to the acts taken by the characters such as facial expression or body language. It leaves the viewer with the cold atmosphere where the interactions bring out a true sense of what is taking place on the screen with a clear impression without misunderstandings. Thus, the deeds committed within the film tell the truth without the combination of acting and pointless gibberish of words that often blurs the situation through truths, half-truths, and lies.
Interestingly, Bresson opens the film with a shot of a hand writing down the beginning of self-confessional statement, which belongs to the main character. The initial statement remains enigmatic, as the film lyrically transitions the film into progression where the audience will learn what the main character has to confess. Through superimposing, the first scene with a pair of gloved rich female hands and a wad of money it allows the viewer to learn the truth of the confession. The gloved hands transfer the money to suited man who enters a line for on-site racetrack betting. Throughout the sequence, the hands are fiddling with the cash between the fingers, as the protagonist and antihero Michel's (Martin LaSalle) ogles the wealth switching hands while being within his reach. Bresson triggers a similar reaction that Pavol's dogs experienced when they salivated to the stimuli of the bell, as the fingers are fondling the money. It helps the audience to identify with Michel on various levels such as thinking about what the money could help provide. In this opening the audience learns the hands significance, as hands are what nurtures the protagonist's actions, which will inevitably lead to trouble.
At first, it seems that the internal desire is driven by greed, but shortly after Michel's first pick pocketing the emotional high of the possibility of apprehension due to the illegal act seems to be one of the motivating factors. Michel's voice-over statement strengthens this notion when he states, "I was walking on air, with the world at my feet." Clearly, he senses an emotional high, which also displays emotional arrogance nourished by his recent success. However, to Michel's dismay, he goes down in flames, as the police arrest him fleeing the scene, but they are forced to release him due to lack of evidence. In addition, his home seems to support the idea that wealth does not have a significant meaning to him, as he leaves all his doors unlocked for anyone to enter at any time.
Some of the motivating forces within Michel appear to be shame, guilt, and paranoia. These emotions seem to emerge through the Oedipus complex that he possesses in relation to his internal desire to pick pockets. He knows it is wrong, yet the desire overcomes his awareness of its immorality, which feeds his feelings of guilt, shame, and paranoia. At the same time, the exhilarating stimuli of succeeding, as he puts it "I was walking on air, with the world at my feet" is worth the risk of shame. These feelings remain throughout the film, but as Michel becomes a student of a master pickpocket he also begins to defeat his feelings with confidence. Nonetheless, the police remain in a not too far distance to remind him of his illegal activities, which allows for shame, guilt, and paranoia to linger throughout the film.
Pickpocket provides a fascinating tale of a man and his vocation, as it allows for the audience to drift into a deeply personal perspective on the motivations that drive a man to do what he does. With the help of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment Bresson brings out the psychological and moral aspects of the story. However, he is far subtler, as he does not deal with the axing of a human. Together with the music and the scene framing the acts of the characters deliver several absorbing ideas in regards to how and why Michel acts in the way he does. The minimalism that Bresson is known for also helps highlight many of these vital aspects of the film, as it does draws attention to what truly is important - the acts of human beings."
Crime and Punishment, Bresson style
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 07/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Looking like a French movie but sounding like Russian literature with all the furniture cataloguing removed, Pickpocket is from the days when Bresson still drew more naturalistic performances from his non-professional casts rather than turning them into stilted and self-conscious mannequins (although Marika Green falls into the latter category, always looking at her feet as if her lines were written on her shoes in classic Bresson automaton mode), and combines the sleek look of a studio policier with a pared down moral debate from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, with theft replacing murder.
Unlike Bresson's more obviously spiritual films (A Man Escaped, Au Hasard Balthazar, Diary of a Country Priest), there's no religious quest here: instead, there's a determinedly atheistic one, with Martin LaSalle's would-be Prince of Pickpockets pursuing an ideal of intellectual elitism as justification for crime against society's morality, failing to realise that he's just another of the thousands of petty egotist in the criminal little leagues. He simply has the ability to articulate his own notions of superiority, completely unaware that he probably works harder at his criminal skills than he would ever do at a proper job.
It's also possibly Bresson's most overtly cinematic work despite the underplaying of the dialog scenes. The fluidity of the railway station sequence, with its extraordinary display of tricks of the trade that seem more magic act than crime (the DVD also includes an extract from sleight-of-hand advisor and supporting player Kassogi's cabaret act) and the stylised nature of the sound that always keeps LaSalle at a slight remove from the world around him are much more exhilarating displays of technique than you usually associate with Bresson's more controlled and understated approach in his other films, as even he gets caught up in the LaSalle's addiction to the perfect high that only crime can give him. In that respect, it's the Bresson film you can safely recommend to people who hate Bresson fans without losing points with the faithful.
Criterion's DVD is a good one, boasting an excellent transfer of the film on disc one with several interviews - including a virtual interrogation of a faltering Bresson on French TV and a trio of interviews with LaSalle, Green and the articulate and intelligent Pierre Leymarie that are all to often broken up by the interviewer's self-indulgent naval-gazing - as well as TV footage of Kassogi's cabararet act."