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*** 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.
*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love French. To me it's the most musical of languages. I can mostly
understand it, as long as there are subtitles, and I love that French
films exercise my mind.
So the language was mostly what kept me engaged in this very strange film.
Martin LaSalle is coldly reptilian as the master pickpocket. His bland expression belies a viper-like precision in capturing billfolds and purses. Watching him work is shocking and chilling.
What bogs the film down is the stilted and plodding dialog. Mouths move but emotions don't. It gets tiresome fast.
What to make of the beguiling Marika Green? When she finally falls for the pickpocket, after he has promised her he won't steal anymore but lands in prison for resorting to his old tricks, she descends from being pathetic to ridiculous.
Glad I saw and heard this but it wasn't really fun.
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.
Although a clear piece of cinematic art with its slow and detailed
sequences, I feel I have missed the genius within Pickpocket. When
watching, nothing grabbed me in the same way as A Man Escaped and I
finished the film appreciating its beauty and form, without feeling
I must point out that it was not that I thought that this was a bad film. Stylistically I agree that this film is fantastically shot in black and white, it was just that I feel that there is something I've missed.
Undeniably the theft sequences are blindingly brilliant and I really felt myself leaning in to watch as hands exchanged wallets with the deftest of touches. I also felt that tension was built up fantastically with the use of sound and imagery. I thought that the ending was well measured and summarised the film well but it was the story as a whole that never grew on me enough and I felt disappointed at points with the way it unfolded.
I hope, however, to watch this film again and perhaps more times after that because I sense that it was what I missed as opposed to what the film lacked. For me, perhaps, it will age like wine. I certainly hope so.
For now... 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Bresson films in general and in Pickpocket in particular:
1-The narrative is reduced to some lines. It looks like bones without any flesh (e.g. Inspired by Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment', Bresson's plot has nothing with the rich psychology of the latter)
2-The characters are reduced to lines and are made some kind of one-dimensional human beings. They are poor in traits and they have not any ambiguities as real people have in their real life. 3-The setting is the least. They are usually simple walls instead of everything. There is no decoration on the walls and over the tables. 4-The actors are non-professionals. Besides, Bresson was asking them not to play. He did not let his actors to deepen the characters. 5-Even Bresson did not call them actors but models.
The universe of Bresson is dark. The universe of Bresson is intentionally poor. People don't enjoy their life. They are sad. They are poor in culture and in human relationship. Something comes and saves them at the end of the film. In Pickpocket it's the love of Jeanne (Marika Green) which saves Michel (Martin La Salle) in prison and gives him hope. A love that appears like a light on Jeanne's face... The reason for all that is in Bresson's religious faith in Jansenism...
I just saw pickpocket for the first time last night, and thought it was the best bresson film i've seen- the others being l'argent, balthasar, and an early one (possibly about a prostitute?) of which i can't remember the title. It's a minimalist masterpiece- only kiarostami's 10 has taken a step onwards and stripped cinema even closer to its essentials- which has more than one moment of transcendence, through a decisive act breaking the compulsive repetition- felt both by protagonist and audience. the only point i have to add is that i found it very hard to stop comparing it to crime and punishment, american gigolo and taxi driver. It's incredible how bresson makes the lesser crime of stealing seem just as immoral as a brutal murder, and the film is sufficiently cinematic and different from its obvious thematic source that it is incomparable to dostoyevsky's novel (which happens to be my favourite book). However, i think the combination of schrader's identification with, and admiration for, both bresson and the russian master, when combined the psychological mastery of scorsese and the uniformly excellent acting of taxi driver make it the better film. Is this perhaps because it gives the audience more sensation, and therefore more to react to, than pickpocket? In this it is closer in tone and style to crime and punishment and notes from the underground, and also perfectly encapsulated a period of time and social mentality just as dostoyevsky did. however, these points are largely irrelevant, for without pickpocket these links would not exist; and without bresson, cinema would have been severely impoverished.
Having only seen Au Hasard Balthazar from Bresson beforehand, of which
I was disappointed by, I had still retained some interest in his work,
despite his often sterile approach to filmmaking. Unfortunately, while
still being very good, Pickpocket is not that film I've been hoping
for. At just over 70 minutes long, it's strange how it skims so much
detail and still feels slow, though is certainly no torture. The core
of the film is Michel, as played by Martin LaSalle, who delivers a
diary-esque narration throughout, which offers the story too much
exposition, rendering all supporting characters to feel as if
strangers. The narration details how he feels and what he's doing as he
does it (in past tense - almost as if a police interrogation or a
confession of other sorts), however, LaSalle's controlled subtle
expressions reveals none of this, leaving us with a protagonist deeper
than his loose fitting suit and cold stare. As the film skips and skims
big details, such as an ostensibly important 15 minutes conversation to
2 whole years spent travelling on the run, the narrative appears to
present all that the protagonist can remember, rather than an objective
view of the story. However, this style alienates the viewer, and
distances from investment for Michel rather than empathising with his
Pickpocket's most exciting moments are the sleight of hand theft sequences, these shots developing the protagonist far greater than his interaction with other characters, as the camera lends Michel's eyes as a mere closeup of a watch on a stranger's hand becomes thrilling. The cinematography keeps a simple wide frame throughout, being purely observant, as the film uses subtle careful sounds of footsteps, rustling of clothes and hands gently touching objects giving it a greater sense of suspense than a score with a pace. The brief melodramatic music that dips in and out feels inappropriate, as does the rather primitive editing method of fading to black and then fading in to the next scene. The straight faces and suits is reminiscent of film noir, though these characters are even more petty than the icons, while it has the crisp realism of neo-noir. The film really captures the essence of Paris. It's certainly an interesting film about moral justification, even if I don't feel like it works in its favour in the end due to its imbalance of over simplification and ambiguity. The film feels like the foundation for an archetype but there's also many missed opportunities for tighter storytelling. I shall still explore Bresson until I discover his masterpiece.
Probably,I can forget all cinematographic masterpieces,without a few
exceptions if I will lose hope to live at all and be in total solitude.
Bresson's "Pickpocket" is certainly one of such exceptional works.
Between this film's mysterious instability of meanings(is it really an adaptation of "Crime and Punishment" or only it tells a story of young French men with curious behavior, freely reading in English and with Christ-like mask?)and complete solidness of the form(light,rhythmic composition and laconic plot development)one will be able to find what he sincerely need in the moment of despair. It may be called providence,or miracle in quite ordinary life. Salvation of a man, who find at last the hope and meaning to live and die. All is like a dream, but the dream is more truthful than miserable life. Without any sentiment,Bresson gave us only a hint, which is itself miraculous. Luis Malle,who was an assistant director in Bresson's previous film "The Man escaped",said that the release of "Pickpocket" is one of the four or five great days in the history of cinema(in "Robert Bresson" ed. by James Quandt,p.570). I agree with him. About 10 years ago,one Russian student in the class of scenario said to me that this film is that of genius. Another student,his rival said, "Andrei Rublyov" is so in all the history of Russian cinema. They are right, and I agree with them.
Greatness of spiritual artwork depends on the purity of author's faith in the moment of its creation. Because, as Nikolai Berdjaev wrote, "human nature is creative,because he is the image and the likeness of God". And Tarkovsky wrote, of all the human activities the creation of artwork is the most unselfish. Michel's pickpocketing in this film seems to be metaphor or image of human creation as a religious,unselfish activity.
THe story is about a very emotionally constricted man who has a
compulsion to steal. On top of that, he's obviously read some Nietsche
and feels entitled to steal, as he is superior to those around him and
every time he steals, he proves this to himself.
I know there are many folks out there that LOVE the French New Wave. As for me, I love some and I hate some--and I hated "Pickpocket". Now I understand that the director deliberately made this film as non-elegantly and non-Hollywood as possible. And, I know that the minimalist acting style was part of the mystique of many New Wave films. My problem is that I just didn't care, as the main character was about as interesting as a block of moldy cheese. No...moldy cheese is infinitely more interesting! It's is really a shame, as there WAS the basis of an interesting story here but the film was so muted and low=tempo that I literally found myself falling asleep as I watched it. It's a shame, as the scenes where the leading man shows off his skills at picking pockets are wonderful. Overall, you could find many things more interesting than watching this film...many.
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