Wednesday, August 6, 2014

350. PICKPOCKET (1959)

Running Time: 75 minutes
Directed By: Robert Bresson
Written By: Robert Bresson
Main Cast: Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Jean Pelegri, Dolly Scal, Pierre Leymarie
Click here to view the trailer


I have to say, I've been looking forward to these Robert Bresson films for a while now. I've always heard great things about Pickpocket and have even heard Martin Scorsese gush about Diary of a Country Priest. The other day, however, I was warned by Ray (frequent commenter) that these films are not so easy and to be cautious when dealing with Bresson. I'll tread lightly, in hopes that at least one of them wows me. For the record, I'll be moving in random order, instead of the usual chronological order. First up: Pickpocket.

The title pretty much outlines the plot synopsis as the movie is basically just about a street thief who gets his jollies slipping his sticky fingers into the suit coat pockets' of unsuspecting strangers. Our title pickpocket is Michel (LaSalle), whom we first meet at a race track, his story being told via narration as he writes his memoirs. At the track, Michel slowly and sneakily slides his fingers into the purse of unsuspecting, seemingly upper class woman and rids her of a bundle of cash. He's almost immediately caught, but with no eyewitnesses and no proof, he's released. We follow him to his meager room - a small, barely livable space with only a small hook and eye latch to keep the door from swinging open. We also follow him as he visits his mother, but decides not to actually enter her apartment for reasons unknown to us at the time. Instead he meets with a neighbor and caretaker of his ailing mother, Jeanne (Green), who wants him to visit her but he refuses. Meanwhile, Michel meets up with a more skilled pickpocket who teaches him even more tricks, while the two share time at a local bar - a place where Michel will learn most of his tricks. The two begin to work together, pulling off more intricate, two man jobs and even adding a third man later to up the ante and pull off even cleverly crafted heists. All the while, Michel has a little on again/off again relationship with the chief inspector of police, who suspects Michel of foul play, but can't prove him of any wrongdoing. The two are cordial, even though they realize that they are each other's enemy.


I'll start by talking about the scenes depicting the actual pickpocketing, which even THE BOOK notes are unlike any thievery scene ever filmed. It's truly amazing how intricate these scenes are and how Bresson was able to capture such excitement in these scenes. Is it true that the second pickpocket Michel meets at the bar was actually a magician or something, who also served as an advisor on the film, showing the filmmakers how to actually do these jobs? It seems that they'd have to have SOMEBODY on set to show them just how to make this stuff look genuine. What I didn't like about the movie is how we're never allowed to get very close to the character of Michel, the main character no less. We're given a man who seems conflicted from the start, yet we're always in the dark about exactly what troubles him. It's as if we're simply being told a story, not given a change to study the characters. I supposed you could say that the Michel character is ripe for examination, yet I say he's almost an enigma. He steals to what end? Not necessarily because he needs the money, but more for the thrill - like why a heroine addict shoots up; perhaps he's addicted to it. Perhaps he needs to feel important, like he has a purpose. Perhaps his connection to the chief inspector is one that he values more than he realizes. Maybe in his mind, as long as he's at large he's wanted by the police and maybe that feeling of being wanted by SOMEONE drives him to continue his pickpocketing. That could even explain why the film ends with him in prison, embracing Jeanne - because now he's wanted by her and no longer needs to be a theif, to be at large. Now he can be addicted to Jeanne, now his life has another purpose, yet it's too late for him, as he's no incarcerated with no hope of having a proper life with Jeanne. Okay, maybe I'm totally off base about this character being stale and maybe he IS ripe for studying.

I wasn't crazy about the movie or anything and found that when we weren't seeing the scenes depicting the pickpocketing, I was bored. I was fascinated by the sleight of hand, by the suspense of watching Michel face to face with some unsuspecting rube who was about to lose his dough. It was all so great that when we had to jump back and see Michel interacting with Jacques or Jeanne or even the scene where he visits his mother, I found myself not really caring about any of that. I wish there could've been a little more done to make those scenes more exciting and prevalent to the overall story. I found myself just watching a movie about a thief and neglecting the story about the man who was the thief and maybe that's my own fault. I would say that it was a better than average outing and really close to being something special, but falling short by just a little bit. Perhaps another day and another viewing would do this picture better, but for now call it a mild thumbs up.

RATING: 6.5/10  Just a little bit more and I could've nudged it into that upper echelon of ratings, which is a '7' or higher. Close but no cigar, but not a bad start for Bresson.


August 6, 2014  1:35am


  1. Perhaps i shouldn't make comments before you have seen a film. However open mimded you are, there will remain a slight."'Oh dear, this is the one 'that ray warned me about..".
    Bresson is to me a bit like Bergman is to Amanda.. just too gloomy, plodding, .. sorry, but.. boring..., but of the ones I have seen, perhaps this is the .. least worse.
    I'm really not sure what it is that puts me off this guy.. anything I say could very well apply to Ingmar Bergman, who I adore, Carl Dreyer who I can cope with..
    Perhaps.. Well, look at the still above.. the one with him in the cage... the oh so studied sulky pose of "look at me, I'm mean and moody and Oh so socially alienated, I don't give a **** about anyone". Just turns me right off in it's.. I'm struggling to find the right words here..... I'm wanting so much to avoid saying 'pretentious posing'.. but it's about the best I've got at the moment..
    Anyway, well done on getting something from this..

    1. I guess I didn't take certain gestures or poses as meaningful as you did, but I definitely get what you're saying. I have a feeling this one will do better someday upon a second viewing and here's hoping it wasn't the best of the crop


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