Pickpocket (1959)

Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Jean Pélégri, Dolly Scal,
Pickpocket is a movie starring Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, and Jean Pélégri. Michel is released from jail after serving a sentence for thievery. His mother dies and he resorts to pickpocketing as a means of survival.
  • 7.6 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Robert Bresson, Director:
  • Agnès Delahaie, Producer:
8 / 10

The usual Bressonian purity.

Probably the most influential of Robert Bresson's trio of masterpieces from the Fifties (the other two being *A Man Escaped* and, of course, *Diary of a Country Priest*). *Pickpocket* sowed its seeds of influence in the minds of any number of film artists -- Jean-Pierre Melville most notably (who despised Bresson, apparently), whose *Le Samourai* was a mighty struggle against this film . . . and, most completely, writer-director Paul Schrader, who, you'll recall, wrote the *Taxi Driver* screenplay, which was another story about a loner on the outside of societal norms. And it goes without saying that Schrader's *American Gigolo*, which he also directed, is a virtual rewrite of *Pickpocket*, right down to the egregiously plagiarized finale.

The subject of Bresson's film is not nearly as sexy a conception as Schrader's gigolo, though the milieu is equally as sleazy. Instead of preening Richard Gere, we get acting novice Martin LaSalle as the Pickpocket, who wears one suit through the entire film. (Schrader obviously thought he was being clever by giving Gere a large closet stuffed with designer suits). LaSalle lives in a crumbly walk-up flat in Paris, where his books gather dust and the baseboards hide his humble stash of francs and the occasional wristwatch. He has few friends and is too ashamed to visit his dying mother (I won't spoil the reason why). The only pleasure he derives is from his compulsive work as a pickpocket, and it is in these scenes that Bresson stuns us with his martinet control of both narrative pacing and camera placement. The director lovingly shows us the subtle skills of the street thief: the creeping hands, the split-second scams (such as lifting a wallet from a man's suit breast-pocket while standing next to him and pretending to read a newspaper), the choreographed celerity of movement when the thief works with his partners in crime. There's one sequence that follows LaSalle and his two accomplices from a train station all the way to the train, in which they lift about 15 wallets and the occasional purse. The camera-work and editing here is nothing less than sheer mastery -- a ballet of thievery. And let it also be said that Bresson is no slouch when it comes to suspense. It's an intimate and sweaty suspense: will LaSalle's fingers, as they slowly reach into a purse, be noticed?

As might be expected from a French director of the period, there's also plenty of philosophizing to be found here, and in this case, the philosophy is actually pretty interesting. The movie takes as its intellectual parents the ubermensch riff by Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment". LaSalle asks the cop who's on his trail if society's "supermen", even if they choose to be thieves, should not only be let alone, but even respected as an overall benefit to society. (Thus sprach Kenneth Lay!) Obviously, we can mull that over ourselves, but in the meantime, Bresson is not particularly impressed with the "decent" elements of society. The cop is a pompous blow-hard who can offer LaSalle no alternative to his criminality. Bresson is more or less saying that modern society is contemptible: your acceptance of that thesis, and the importance you place on the occasional 100 francs getting lifted from an overfed bourgeois, will ultimately determine your acceptance of this film.

But perhaps its style will bog you down. As per usual, Bresson breaks virtually every rule of the movies. The use of non-actors in the main roles engenders both assets and liabilities: while the avoidance of the typical actors' nonsense is a definite asset, the liabilities occur when Bresson asks his "interpreters" to finally, well, act. There are a few scenes here where the incompetence of LaSalle (he eventually became a fine actor, but he was virtually plucked off the street by Bresson in 1958) will make you cringe, especially when LaSalle is supposed to be angry with someone. There IS something to be said for professionals -- even professional actors. And if none of this puts you off, perhaps Bresson's perverse narrative style -- including scenes in which a character writes down on a piece of paper the following narrative action, to be followed by the character READING what he has just written down, and climaxed by the character DOING just what he wrote and said he was going to do -- will make you scratch your head and mutter something about the arty pretensions of French directors.

And your comments would certainly be justified in Bresson's later productions. But in *Pickpocket*, I feel, the narrative precision, lack of bloat (the movie is 75 minutes long), and broader philosophical questions coalesce into a stringent masterpiece that must finally win your respect. Besides: you gotta love a movie about a pickpocket who never bothers to lock, or even close, his own front door. See? Bresson can even be funny.

8 stars out of 10.

7 / 10

Bresson's films are quite unlike anything else in the cinema...

In his dismissal determination to keep out elements often thought fundamental to the medium?spectacle, drama, performance? Bresson has followed an incomparable personal vision of the world that stays consistent whatever the nature of his subject matter...

In "Pickpocket," a petty thief understands life's mystery only when his conventional wisdom is violently shaken and embraces humanity through his newfound love? Most notable, however, is not the emphasis upon redemption attained through communication and self-sacrifice, but the high-purity of Bresson's style...

The camera keeps out pictorial beauty to create an abstract timeless world through the detached, detailed observation of hands, faces, and objects; natural sounds rather than music to satisfy the need? In thus rejecting conventional realism and characterization, Bresson manifested a fascination not with human psychology but with the capacity of the soul to survive in a world of pain, disbelieve, and restriction...

7 / 10

simple is as simple does, which includes stealing and living an isolated life

Robert Bresson's Pickpocket has many great moments, even as it didn't quite do it for me on a first viewing as a 'masterpiece'(some have said to see it twice, perhaps I will). Bresson's use of the camera is often intoxicating in the most subdued, subtle, in-direct distinctions; at times it does take on the prowess of literature. But my only minor nitpick with the film is that it leaves a sort of cold viewing on a viewer, with such simplicity and emotions stripped from the character(s) that it's hard to connect. And yet, this is really made up tenfold with the sort of style that can be likely called Bressonian; straightforward angles, tense medium close-ups, serene editing, and little to no music.

Whatever it sets up for this actor to do, it sets up well. Indeed, the actor who plays the protagonist here is actually very good, aside from the disconnection, and provides an excellent way for us to get along his side. He is a decent person, but there are certain things that get to him, which is why he feels he must steal. At times I almost had a grin as he made some successful grabs, by himself or his cohorts. Was I rooting for him, or just pleased by the pay-off of Bresson's suspense? Maybe both; there is definitely one truly virtuoso sequence in the film, when the pickpockets go on the train.

Like A Man Escaped, there is that sort of dissection, quietly and without really digging too deep, into what a man wants with his life, or doesn't want. While the hero has only one determination in Man Escaped, to get out, Pickpocket has a man who doesn't know what to do with himself, only coming to a genuine catharsis behind bars. I think I like Pickpocket a little more, but I may like it even more on another viewing.

9 / 10

A riveting classic

I hated this film the first time I saw it a few years ago. I saw it again last night because my own personal code dictates that when something is universally regarded as a masterpiece and I don't like it, then I'm the one with the problem. So I saw it again to see just what my problem was. This time I thought it was riveting. It was hard to take my eyes off the screen. It is one of the best works about compulsion I have ever seen. I guess this is one of those works, like Borges' novels for example, that needs to be experienced twice to be appreciated.

7 / 10

The Fall and Redemption of a Pickpocket

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"