Michel takes up picking pockets as a hobby, and is arrested almost immediately, giving him the chance to reflect on the morality of crime. After his release, though, his mother dies, and he rejects the support of friends Jeanne and Jacques in favour of returning to pickpocketing (after taking lessons from an expert), because he realises that it's the only way he can express himself...


Robert Bresson


Jean Pélégri
as L'inspecteur principal
Dolly Scal
as La mère
Pierre Étaix
as Accomplice 2
as 1er complice

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Wesley-Wang 10 /10

A Man Imprisoned

Whereas in A Man Escaped (1956) the protagonist is imprisoned literally and free metaphorically, in Pickpocket the protagonist is free literally but imprisoned metaphorically. Both their literal states then transform into their metaphorical state- as in most of Bresson's films, the soul triumphs.

Though contrary to my previous statement, Bresson does not hesitate with reality. In fact, he once stated in an interview, he is "obsessed with reality". His portrayal of objects and movements are simple, but precise, as the tangible often is. This is best depicted in an elegantly coordinated sequence a little over halfway through the film, where Michel and his accomplices pickpocket several passengers on a train. The "ballet of images", as Roger Ebert described it, was the most beautiful heist scene I have ever witnessed.

Like Travis Bickle in Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Michel suffers from loneliness and perverse societal beliefs. He uses pickpocketing as an outlet for pleasure, and becomes addicted. He thinks he is somehow better than everyone else, and uses this as an excuse for committing crime. As ignorant as he may seem, he does bring up some good points that are of philosophical interest. For instance, Michel argues with the inspector: "Can we not admit that certain skilled men, gifted with intelligence, talent or even genius, and thus indispensable to society, rather than stagnate, should be free to disobey the laws in certain cases?" Of course, Michel is talking about himself as one of the "supermen".

You can especially see personal elements of Bresson's thoughts embedded in Michel's character when Michel explains regarding his "supermen" theory, "(the world) is already upside down. This could set it right." Bresson has repeatedly declared his pessimistic view of modern cinema, and how its theatricality (namely contrived emotion and expressive acting) is ruining what cinema is meant to be.

The film climaxes at an ethereal last scene, where Jeanne, the young lady Michel was helping (also a similarity to Taxi Driver where Travis Bickle protects for Iris), visits him in prison. Michel realizes he is in love, and they touch through the bars that separate them. He narrates, "Oh, Jeanne, what a strange way I had to take to meet you!"

The key to Bresson's style is transcendentalism. While he provides what happens, he forces the viewer to use their imagination to answer why it happened. For example, we are left in the dark on why Michel avoids visiting his ill mother. He works on the ironic, yet genius philosophy: if you bore the viewer enough, they will become entranced. I had to watch Pickpocket twice to fully come to terms to his uncompromising methodology, and even now I'm still struggling to describe the experience of watching a Bresson film with words.

I will say this though: it's freaking hilarious how the pickpocket never locks his own door.

Reviewed by FilmSnobby 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.

Reviewed by Nazi_Fighter_David 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...

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