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Pickpocket (1959) - Robert Bresson

Related: Robert Bresson - French cinema - 1959

Pickpocket (1959) - Robert Bresson
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Pickpocket is a 1959 film by the French director Robert Bresson. It starred nonprofessional actor Martin Lasalle in the title role, with Marika Green. The plot is essentially a modern-day, stripped-down (less than eighty minutes) version of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, with theft substituted for murder as the crime which the hero commits to prove his superiority. As in Dostoyevsky's novel, the hero, Michel, has a strange, almost confessional relationship with the policeman who is hunting him, and is finally redeemed through love. As usual in Bresson's work, psychological analysis is eschewed in favour of deadpan acting and pared-down visuals in order to focus on the hero's spiritual regeneration.

Pickpocket exerted a formative influence over the work of Paul Schrader, who has described it as "an unmitigated masterpiece" and "as close to perfect as there can be", and whose films American Gigolo, Patty Hearst and Light Sleeper all include endings similar to that of Pickpocket. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickpocket_%28film%29 [Sept 2006]

Amazon review

Robert Bresson drew inspiration from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment for this examination of an arrogant young pickpocket who deems himself above the laws and conditions of ordinary men. Michel (Martin LaSalle), a rather bland-looking young man with a perpetually blank face, haunts the subways, city streets, and racetracks to ply his trade. He plays a game of wits with a fatherly police inspector and walls his heart off from the affections of a quiet young woman, Jeanne (Marika Green), who looks after his dying mother. Bresson's direction of his "models" (as he calls his nonprofessional performers) strips them of affectation and motivation, making them blank slates defined by the accumulation of precisely drilled actions and words. Pickpocket is no thriller, though Bresson offers impressive, meticulously detailed scenes of daring and intimate robberies (one sequence on a subway feels like an homage to Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street). Rather, it is a powerful, profound search for meaning and spiritual enlightenment by a man who believes in nothing but himself, and many critics consider it Bresson's masterpiece. Paul Schrader, whose book Transcendental Cinema offers a detailed analysis of Bresson's work, has quoted the famous, emotionally restrained yet spiritually moving conclusion in two of his own films: American Gigolo and Light Sleeper. --Sean Axmaker, amazon.com

Barrington pickpocket

George Barrington robs Prince Orlov.

George Barrington (May 14, 1755 1804) was an Irish pickpocket. A book on him was mentioned in the 1959 film Pickpocket by Robert Bresson. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Barrington

The first Bresson film I saw was Pickpocket. I saw it with my father and I can remember him being very fond of it. I was in my teens. In the 2000s, after seeing Funny Games, I got into Haneke. Haneke is a big fan of Bresson, he put Au hasard Balthazar in the number one spot of his all-time favorite films 1. So I rented the 1966 Au hasard Balthazar six months ago and I just couldn't get into the film. It all seemed so improbable. And today I viewed Pickpocket, I was able to finish the viewing. Again, to me the film lacked verisimilitude, the protagonist looked suspicious most of the time, not the insolent looks you'd expect from a seasoned pickpocket. Not one character laughed. The meetings in the bar were very strange, I cannot imagine people meeting like this and having the conversations they had. I cannot imagine the friendship between the thief and his friend. I liked Jeanne.

I liked the use of sound, there is this dronish sound of traffic or something else which reminds of Lynch. There is also this theoretical bit which explains that some people should be allowed more than others, that these Nietzschean supermen should be allowed to steal for the good of society. In the extras there was an interesting interview with Bresson in which he explains that he wanted to express the loneliness of the thief. I guess he succeeded in that. He also said that he wanted to get as far as possible away from theatrical techniques: no mimicry, a choice for an anti-expression.

See also: pickpocket - Robert Bresson


Related: crime - theft

Pickpocketing is the act of surreptitiously taking objects from the immediate person of an unsuspecting dupe. Criminals often use the technique to steal money and/or valuables from a victim in a public, usually crowded place. It is also a common trick of magicians. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickpocket [Oct 2005]

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