Sunday 4 December 2016

Pickpocket (1959)

I think I have worked out how Robert Bresson’s movies work.

They force you into the brain of a character going through some sort of crisis or and makes you see the whole thing from the inside of his head. In “Diary of a Country Priest” it was a priest going through a religious crisis, in “A Man Escaped” is was a prisoner during the war and in “Pickpocket” it is a, well, a pickpocket.

The view from inside the head of the prisoner was fascinating and very interesting and one of the best French movies I have watched. The priest however was massively uninteresting and I did not care one bit for the character. As a result this was a terrible movie to get through. With “Pickpocket” I am afraid we have landed in that ditch again.

The head we crawl into is that of Michel (Martin LaSalle), a man who develops a severe case of kleptomania. He steals some money at the race course and gets so excited about it that he cannot stop again. Michel is a terrible amateur, but soon he meets a true pro who trains him into an expert pickpocket.

Michel is lost to the world. His mother dies, friends walks out on him and he hardly recognize a girl, Jeanne (Marika Green) with an obvious (and inexplicable) crush on him. The only thing Michel cares about is his stealing. Eventually he develops a paranoia, believing that everybody is on to him. When his friends are caught he goes away for a while, returns a few years’ later, steals some more and are caught.

At this point Jeanne has a baby with a man who does not care about her and she looks to Michel to help her. Great help he is.

The problems here are many.

First off, I do not care about Michel. He is obsessive and selfish and completely impossible to root for. It is not just that he has chosen a despicable profession, no, this guy is a complete asshole with room in his life for just himself. Sometimes the mind of a criminal is fascinating and interesting, but not Michel’s. Only in the sense that stealing is like a drug for him and that his behavior and mental state closely resembles that of an addict. That is perceptive of Bresson, but not enough for me to take a real interest in Michel.

Bresson apparently demanded a certain kind of natural acting. I cannot say that has benefitted this movie. Michel walks around with dead eyes, like a zombie, deepening my lack of interest. All dialogue is clipped, surreal and at times outright stupid. It is not so much that it is confusing (and it is), as it feel artificial and serves as a repellant against interest. At least the “Diary…” had some interesting characters and a few good dialogues, but I cannot even remember one such in “Pickpocket”.

There is a point to the movie, besides showing us the inside of the head of a victim of kleptomania, which is something about that in prison he finally finds Jeanne and that this is somehow his cure, but it is thin, really thin. It is sad and somewhat unbelievable that a pretty and smart girl like Jeanne only have Michel to help her. I mean, Paris is a big place and Michel has done everything in his power to turn her away from him. It is more believable that Jeanne is the only one left for Michel, but that she should now suddenly be able to cure him… nah…

Sorry for being the pessimist.

I really did not care for Michel and his affliction and combined with the filming technique this movie felt twice as long as its modest running time. Bresson is truly a hit or miss director whose certain style is so dependent on his subject. In this case it was a miss for me. Sorry.



  1. Coming soon on Flickers in Time ....

  2. You know I liked this more than you, but I do agree that Jeanne could have done better than Michel. Looking back on it, I liked the filmmaking elements of the film rather than the story.

    I'll be interested to see what you make of Au Hasard Balthazar, which I liked much more than this.

    1. Yes, I realize that most reviewers like this movie a lot more than I do. For me the content always weigh a lot and usually more than the form. I actually like Bresson's formula, but here I simply do not care about the characters, no matter how much Bresson is facinated by their obsessions.

  3. I really enjoyed Pickpocket, though I'll concede that it can be bland at times and that Michel is hard to root for. I mostly viewed it as a retelling of Crime and Punishment, so I found it fun to compare the two works while watching.

  4. I do not think have seen Crime and Punishment so I really cannot compare. After the prison break movie I had high hopes for Pickpocket but felt rather deflated watching it.