A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959)

Maybe it's Bresson fatigue after watching three of his films in as many days (thanks to TCM's programming them in a block), but I found Pickpocket less satisfying than Diary of a Country Priest or A Man Escaped. What it does have going for it is a compelling central performance by another Bressonian unknown, Martin LaSalle, as Michel, the titular thief. LaSalle has the haunted look of the young Henry Fonda or Montgomery Clift -- a look, incidentally, that Alfred Hitchcock used to great effect by featuring those actors in two of his lesser-known films, Fonda in The Wrong Man (1956) and Clift in I Confess (1953). Pickpocket also contains a justly celebrated sequence demonstrating the team of thieves at work, a showcase for the work of Bresson's editor, Raymond Lamy. I think my mild dissatisfaction lies in Bresson's imposing his material on the structure of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Like Raskolnikov, Michel lives in a cramped little garret room, meditates on the potential for a man of superior intellect to move beyond good and evil, commits a crime (though picking pockets is a good deal less evil than murdering an old woman) from which he refuses to benefit materially, gets caught, and is redeemed by his love for a "fallen woman," Jeanne (Marika Green), the film's equivalent to Dostoevsky's Sonya. The effect of all this is to make me wish that Bresson had simply decided to film Crime and Punishment. Lurking in the background as well are the existentialist novels of Camus and Sartre, which were much in vogue at the time.

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