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In Paris, the lonely and anguished pickpocket Michel (Martin La Salle)
lives in a dirty little room and spends his time stealing wallets and
purses in public spaces. His only friends are Jacques (Pierre
Leymarie), who tries to help him to find a job, and his mother's next
door neighbor Jeanne (Marika Green). After the death of his mother,
Michel teams-up with two smalltime thieves despite the permanent
surveillance of the local police inspector (Jean Pélégri). Later he
travels overseas to get rid of the observation of the police, but two
years later he returns to Paris and finds Jeanne alone, with her son
with Jacques after a brief love affair. Michel decides to help her and
find an honest job; but in a horse race, he is tempted by his addiction
with tragic consequences.
This is the first time that I have watched"Pickpocket" and I expected much more from this famous movie. The development of the lead character Michel is confused and it is clear that he is a troubled, lonely and anguished unemployed young man, but it is never clear the motives why he is addicted in stealing since he shows no ambition or dream or love. The beauty of Marika Green is impressive and she seems to love Michel since the very beginning but again her feelings are never clear. Indeed the actors and actress express no sentiments and the plot is very weird. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Pickpocket"
I guess this makes me a philistine, but sitting through Pickpocket in its beautifully rendered Criterion DVD edition was simply painful. To those who are not professional film historians, you should be aware that this is not a crime drama in any sense of the genre, and really not a drama. That's because there is no attempt, no attempt to have a plot. Pickpocket is an expression of pure naturalism in film. People simply are. There are no visible emotions, no interaction, no dramatic tension. There is only beautiful camera work--the loving caress of 35mm black and white touching the fascinating surface of Paris in the late 1950's. (There are also endless "lessons" in how professional pickpockets operate...enough to scare you into hiding your traveling money in one of those weird tourist belt things!) The film really belongs in a museum and I know that film lovers much more aesthetically attuned than I appreciate it as though it were a museum masterpiece. That's fine. But if you rent it or buy it in DVD or video thinking you're going to see one of those classic noir-inspired late 50's French crime films, you will be bored out of your mind waiting for the plot to happen. Believe me, it doesn't.
Pickpocket is a film that apparently has serious flaws- from the very
beginning it displays little to no emotion as the actors on screen just
say their lines and the camera just follows them from a distance, with
no close-ups or any other tricks.
But what is unique about this film is that this very criticism is actually a deliberate attempt to cause uneasiness in the viewer. And it succeeds- the anxiety, as felt by the pickpocket in his everyday living, is also transmitted to us. So, to correct my previous statement: this movie does not lack emotions- it has emotions: anxiety, uncertainty, but these are delivered in an unconventional manner.
From a personal standpoint, I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. It is hard to appreciate this dimension of the film at first. But after seeing some extras from the excellent Criterion package, I was able to understand better. How Bresson actually committed to cause these emotions in the viewer, how he re-shot several times various scenes until the actors just repeated their lines, until no trait of emotions were left. Michel's narration voice-over is flat, plain. These were non-professional actors set to work in a non-standard way, Bresson's way. And the result is this: a film somewhat off-putting, but still a great work of art.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Pickpocket" creates a striking cinematic criminal for the post-World
War II age of alienation and existential Nietzschian hubris.
Writer/director Robert Bresson draws on literary precedents like Dickens's Fagin and Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, with the look of Fritz Lang's "M."
As a character study, "Michel" is shown as alienated from the economy, his friends, his family, even as they keep reaching out to him. His behavior becomes cruel to those closest to him as he retreats more and more to an isolated garret.
From his isolation he starts seeing himself as exempt from truth and morality. While there is a sub-theme of sin and possible redemption throughout the film, formal religion is surprisingly absent for a French film, particularly when a preachy friend turns out to be a hypocrite. Bresson well shows how "Michel" becomes subject to temptations and the rush of taking risks, as the camera stays perfectly still when "Michel" contemplates a crime and millimeter by millimeter tempts the fates.
The most powerful scenes show his contrasting exhilaration in what becomes compulsive gambling behavior and even deluded hubris, shown through fast-paced, quickly edited shots. He exults in the precision of nefarious team work, that has more than a frisson of homo-eroticism.
With little dialog, the voice-over narrator seems to be his autobiography, but is not completely trustworthy, especially as his restlessness gets too quickly described.
His return to a constricted space is ironic, as he had become completely self-centered anyway. The formality of his dress in suit and tie and the beautiful classical score of Jean-Baptiste Lully music provides additional formalistic structures to constrain the characters.
"Michel"s concluding redemption by the love of a good woman is not completely convincing, particularly as I doubt that French movies were subject to a behavioral code as were American movies of the period.
The gorgeous black and white was worth seeing on a theater screen, as I assumed NYC's IFC Center showed a fresh print.
A filmed adaptation of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment that not only
fails to add anything to the interpretation of the source material, but
also fails to accomplish anything remotely interesting cinematically.
Aside from the standard ideas of the new wave, Bresson's main concept
is the use of his cast not as "actors", but as "models". He thought
that classical Hollywood acting was histrionic and stagey, and
therefore uncinematic. What Bresson didn't get is that naturalist
acting is not having your actors woodenly recite their lines and then
stare at the floor. Also, it doesn't help that the dialogue is plain
awful. Maybe it's just the English subtitles that are bad, but most of
the dialogue sounds more like something from a second rate
existentialist play than a realist film. Crime and Punishment hinges on
Raskolnikov's detached, dreamlike state throughout the book. The film,
however, attempts to give the main character the same motivations as
Raskolnikov without communicating his mania in any way. Taken alone,
without considering the source material, the motivation for Michel's
actions is totally incomprehensible.
Pickpocket is notable mostly for terrible photography (except in the train sequence), mannequin-like acting, and poor pacing that fails, in less then an hour and a half, to have half as much dramatic momentum as a six hundred page novel. A failed experiment.
A remarkable film even though the ending is anti-climactic. An amateur
pickpocket gets lucky and meets Kassagi, the real-life pickpocket who
served as the film's technical consultant. The most amazing scene is
the one where three pickpockets rob one passenger after another on a
train, taking wallets, passing them off to each other, then emptying
and dumping them (or in one case, neatly replacing the lightened wallet
in a man's pocket!). The light-finger techniques seem more or less
authentic, although I imagine the director's script might have called
for inauthentic bits of business. (No, I am not a pickpocket; I was a
mark once, and they really messed up my life for a couple of days, but
I have been fascinated ever since.)
The pickpockets in this movie follow the European style of stealing men's wallets practically face-to-face. (American pickpockets traditionally prefer to steal from behind to avoid any chance of a mark seeing their faces. When I was taken, I never saw, heard or felt anything.)
LaSalle as Michel is deadpan, but that seems to be part of his character. Now and again, he bubbles a little with suppressed feeling, mostly anger. His passion for Jeanne (Marika Green) is so completely submerged that it does not come out until the end. (If you think I'm spoiling anything, you will want to skip the on screen legend that opens the film because it gives away even more.) As a love story, this does not work. I get it, though: Something happened before the film begins that makes Michel extremely ashamed. He can't be with his mother or anyone he cares about because of his guilt.
No doubt that this is a very well done film but it at the same time
also isn't the best or most effective one within its genre.
The movie has the same sort of story and approach as for instance the other European movies "Ladri di biciclette" and "Umberto D." but big difference with those movies is that you never feel the same sort of desperateness that the main character must have had. I just never felt it was a necessity for the main character to be a pickpocket. Surely he could had gotten a straight job, if he tried hard enough. It was just a way of life that he had picked for himself because it was one of the most easy things for him to do and felt more comfortable doing that than an actual normal job. The movie therefore felt kind of less involving and powerful to watch, than the earlier mentioned similar type of movies.
The main character also falls kind of flat due to the quite weak acting within the movie. Martin LaSalle's face remains basically the same throughout the entire movie, so all of the emotions also already fall kind of flat due to all of this. Apparently this was a type of acting-style that Robert Bresson liked but I'm just not much into it or impressed by it at all.
And the story also just doesn't work out that interesting because of all of that. The story gets mostly saved by the fact that the movie is being an extremely short one and therefore never starts to drag. It's not like the story is dull but it's just the type of movie that tries to pick a more realistic approach, with a more realistic and everyday type of story, in which not always an awful lot (interesting) is happening.
But oh well, it's still a very well shot film, so the movie remains for most part still a real pleasure to watch. All of the pickpocketing scene's are quite well done and show the art and skill that goes into it. No doubt some people, with criminal intentions, are taking notes from this movie, just like the main character from this movie was taking notes from a book.
A good watch but at the same time also a movie that you can easily do without.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This early Bresson piece is an interesting but ultimately flawed work.
Clearly influenced by Italian neo-realism, non-professional actors are used throughout the film. Unlike in neo-realist works though, where a deep sympathy for the protoganist is established, there is a cold, distancing effect in this film that means one feels little sympathy. This disengagement also means the viewer quickly loses interest in the proceedings. Telling the story via the device of the character writing his memoirs from behind bars should have generated interest but he is so distant it is obvious the character does not really understand himself, let alone anyone else.
The main character however, does have the potential to be a fascinating figure. Drawn to the life of a pickpocket through feelings of superiority and of being above society's laws, he descends into paranoia as the law pursues him. He plays a cat and mouse game with the authorities, though who will win is never in doubt to the observer.
Likewise, the scenes of pick-pocketing lack suspense or interest. Indeed, his existence seems all the more mundane for them; he is no more interesting than a mere accountant going about his work. Whilst this may be potentially subversive for those expecting a traditional crime/heist suspense film (indeed the audience is warned from the outset not to expect one), they do not offer any more insight into the character. In addition to this, his bouts of reclusivity also do nothing to offer invoke sympathy. This is a pity as recluses are rarely depicted on film and when they do so, it is never in a positive light nor is little insight given into why they may reject or fear the callous world around them. As in this case, they are merely shown to be paranoid.
Aside from this descent into paranoia, there is little character development until the film's end. The protagonist remains arrogant and aloof and his attempts at reforming are half-hearted until his final redemption after his period of reflection behind bars. The character of the law enforcer has little voice and is really just a personification of the forces of justice. Likewise, the females invoke sympathy but are of little interest in their own right.
Bresson's spartan style is not yet mature here and the religious themes for which he would become renowned do not show through. Ultimately, though, this film is a wasted opportunity. With a tightened screenplay and better evocation of the characters' emotions it could have been one of Bresson's masterpieces.
at the beginning of Pickpocket, before the opening credits, Bresson
needed to stress that this is not crime thriller. he explained that he
seeks, through image and sound, to express the nightmare of a young man
led by weakness to adventure in stealing, for which he was not destined
to.. this is a story of sin and redemption
being interested in Bresson's cinema and after watching some of his films, i've come to know just how much he dislikes expressive acting. Bresson insists to show no emotion or modulation from his actors; displaying almost exclusively blank stares and largely stagnant apparels and levelled speaking volume - his ascetic nature. but i think that in the process, he constantly invites the viewer into the film because in those faces, we see and observe what we are bringing to them; and the involvement goes quite deep once the viewer realizes his role.
we do not know the reasons which led the protagonist (Michel) to steal and we never see him use the fruit of his thefts. Bresson is showing the effects, not the causes, which leaves us out of the loop, but it's intentional to make us feel before understanding. we decide that it's a compulsion for Michel to steal, as he is ecstatic when he surrenders to it, he is dominating.
throughout the film, the exercise of pickpocketing becomes more compulsive, and the directorial treatment grows more meticulous, resulting in a fascinating sequence showing the gang of pickpockets operating successively in a railway station and on a train. during the precise quick series of stealing, the camera perfectly mirrors them by quickly changing angles, distances and directions; complemented by skillful editing.
i'm presently having a major Radiohead kick, and i couldn't help but to somehow make a connection here. the film, like the band often do, presents a splendid portrait of alienation and revolt. the camera seems to patiently follow Michel or wait for his arrival; he is estranged from his surroundings. the camera generally takes a face to face position which creates a sense of separation between him and those around. there's also a feeling of leaving adolescence and entering adulthood; the act of theft can be seen as an act of revolt, a rejection of society. yet we feel a strong to desire to exist and find a place in this world.
Michel is a proud rebellious man. in a conversation with the inspector, he outlined his theory of superior beings, who would be above the law (very reminding of Brandon from Hitchcock's Rope). but later in the film, Michel deliberately tries to pickpocket a police decoy even if he is suspicious of him. and when he's caught, he shows no reaction; almost as if he's asking for it. maybe that's his way of redemption (to trick himself into letting his guard down to finally submit to the common man laws); or maybe he just couldn't help but give in to his compulsion.. either way, the film shows no motives
"however this adventure and the strange path it takes, brings together two souls that may otherwise never have met". there's graceful sense of predestination here; in the film's powerful conclusion, Michel finds his redemption. the revelation of his love to Jeanne enlightens and finally saves him. Pickpocket is a compassionate exploration of human frailty and a masterpiece of narrative economy.
Some reviewers say that "this film is not for regular film-goers but for people with a better appreciation for art", but there is only one criterion for a true work of art; an original expression appealing to the heart. Criterion, in its introduction to one of his films says: "...Robert Bresson began to implement his stylistic philosophy as a filmmaker, stripping away all inessential elements from his compositions, the dialog and the music, exacting a purity of image and sound.". He also refrained from using professional actors. We'd better watch documentaries. This film, with its "wooden" acting, lifeless dialogs, monotonous tempo, unnecessary narrating voice, stolen but frozen version of "supermensch" argument of Nietzsche (religiously criticized in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment with PASSION -lacking 100% in this film) leaves nothing to enjoy. All to one side; an "art" film avoiding everything popular tries to display the "subtleties of pickpocketing", orchestration of gang members in operation (without success due to non-fluid editing done) "a la Hollywood"in order to add some life to this otherwise worthless drama. I have watched a few films by Bresson: "Les dames de.." lacks emotion. "Diary of a Country Priest" is advisable only to priests. "A ManEscaped" is much better since it does not preach and has a nice change of tempo at the end.
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