For Reel

Pickpocket (1959)
February 15, 2012, 6:09 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Bresson

In the back half of Robert Bresson’s relatively meager yet awe-inspiring career, he would directly adapt Fyodor Dostoyevsky with a pair of great films, Une Femme Douce and Four Nights of a Dreamer. His Pickpocket, the revered 1959 classic, is clear to have been inspired by Crime and Punishment, with an intellectual protagonist who steals because he feels that he has a license to. Martin Lassalle, who, like all save two of Bresson’s protagonists (the women of his earliest two pictures), was a nonprofessional actor, and as Michel, the titular pickpocket, he is a compelling, if intentionally evasive presence. Through his relationship with a policeman, it becomes clear that Michel longs to be caught, as if seeking penance. Like A Man Escaped, the film heavily involves first-person narration, and, if not physically so, it deals with a metaphorical imprisonment. Ironically, only in being locked in a cell at the end of the picture does Michel find grace. The sequences of pickpocketing are the ballets of a virtuoso filmmaker, using succinct editing and close-ups of hands to capture the action. Hands, in Bresson, are fate-makers, as if suggesting free will and impulse. Pickpocket‘s final moments – in which the imprisoned Michel substitutes his passion for thievery for an admission of love – don’t ring completely true, perhaps due to the uncharacteristically invasive score.

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