Sunday, January 22, 2006


Dir: Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthusar, Diary of a Country Priest)

1959 (One of the best years for foreign films)

The deeply religious and contemplative French director continues his ruminations on morality and spirituality in perhaps his most important work, Pickpocket. This 75 minute film goes to great lengths to unsettle audience expectations of generic filmmaking. The opening crawl announces that Pickpocket is not a film about a criminal or is a typical caper flick, instead the film centers on the moral ambivalence of the petty thief, Michel.

Michel falls into a more experienced crowd and successfully pulls off numerous pickpocketing scams (the filming of these pickpocketing schemes are quite amazing, Bresson had a professional magician/pickpocket on-set to ensure realism). Pickpocketing serves as a substitute for any real effort for self-understanding. His emotional and moral distance isolates him from any genuine human emotion, either for his mother or his mother's lovely neighbor, depsite their numerous attempts to reach out to Michel.

Plot and narrative are only circumstantial to this contemplative piece. It runs a little better than an hour, but it feels remarkably slow. But that is not a bad thing given Bresson's broader artistic vision. The score is sparse and the editing disrupts any pretense of continuity. It moves slowly, but every shot captures the isolation and indifference that plagues Michel's life. Learned film scholars suggest that Bresson was inspired by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, telling the tale of a disaffected and morally ambiguous man. However, I thought of Meursault, from Camus's the Stranger when watching the film (but since I have not read C & P, my resources for analogy are limited).

The film is considered one of the most important in cinema history, according to erudite film scholars. So, I will concede the film is much smarter than me. I look forward to listening to the commentary for much greater insight. If you wish to see all the exemplars of cinema history, according to those in the know, see it. In my dual lists of "most important films" and "my favorites," Pickpocket will mostly likely only make the former.