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Michel takes up picking pockets as a hobby, and is arrested almost immediately, giving him the chance to reflect on the morality of crime. After his release, though, his mother dies, and he rejects the support of friends Jeanne and Jacques in favour of returning to pickpocketing (after taking lessons from an expert), because he realises that it's the only way he can express himself... Written by
Michael Brooke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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 dialogue 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 adviser 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.
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