A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

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.