Pickpocket ★★★★½

So after the overwhelming satisfaction I found with Bresson's A Man Escaped, I immediately dove into his next chronological work Pickpocket. With a brisk 75 minute running time and an intriguing premise, I expected to have the same response that I had with his previous work. Whilst I didn't have the immediate affection for this film as I had for A Man Escaped, I have wrestled with it more after the fact to the point that it is showing its true colours and I am very eager to watch it again.

With Bresson, one must adjust the way they read and understand film, and it helps to recognise his techniques. He throws convention out the window and strips away what other filmmakers focus on, he forces the viewer to use their imagination, to find empathy with what is essentially a blank canvas in the protagonists he offers us, particularly here with Martin LaSalle as Michel, a pickpocket who believes that his intelligence and skill should allow him to perform his acts of theft. What I mistook as a character that didn't deserve or earn my sympathies, is in fact just as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (which Paul Schrader modelled on Pickpocket) God's lonely man. He is a man imprisoned in his body, using his intelligence to better himself, focussing on an obsessive compulsion that will thrill and satisfy him materially, avoiding emotional connection with those who offer it, and at the very last, letting himself be caught as if it's a means to an end which will ultimately allow him to sever a material pursuit and achieve a spiritual grace via way of redemption. The final scene where he is imprisoned, yet able to finally release emotion and find love is quite unique, in that it moves you in ways that are hard to put a finger on, due to the relationship we have with the character of Michel.

It is often referred to as a modern take on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, but as I am unfamiliar with that frame of reference, I am able to focus on Pickpocket as a unique work, one that puts the viewer in the world of Michel, and only his world. We feel the thrill of the chase and the elation of a successful theft, especially when he is chosen by a local crew to learn their ways and improve his skills. The interference and the ever watchful eye of the Police Chief creates an interesting tension and once again it all relies on Bresson's method of keeping things tightly focussed, stripping away the fat and showing us deft hands at work, shifty eyes and nimble footwork. As is common knowledge, Bresson doesn't care for acting, but uses his actors as tools and with Martin LaSalle, it is often noted that he is wooden, but this is all part of Bresson's big plan to help us focus on what he feels are the important details. Once again we are guided through the film via voice over, by a protagonist who likes to document his thoughts which insists on a subjective view only, keeping us in Michel's world.

So it seems that, my initial mixed feelings after viewing Pickpocket has blossomed into something more as the film challenged me in the days post-viewing. The film that Paul Schrader describes as "an unmitigated masterpiece" and "as close to perfect as there can be" and the inspiration for his written work and Directorial work, has much more at play than would first seem. Watching a few video's on Bresson's technique and editing style has really helped to shepherd my viewpoint from slightly underwhelmed, to highly engaged. I am already thinking about my next viewing of it...

Rod liked these reviews