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Pickpocket

cast: Martin Lasalle, Marika Green, Pierre Leymarie, Jean Pelegri, and Kassagi

director: Robert Bresson

73 minutes (PG) 1959
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Regarded by many as Bresson's best film, Pickpocket is the story of an intelligent but directionless young man's descent into petty crime. It's easy to see why, too, as the director's style is clear in every immaculately framed shot. With no music and scant dialogue, Pickpocket has an immediacy that few films can match and an intimacy that's genuinely surprising. Michel, the protagonist, plies his dubious trade in crowded trains and racetracks, the invasion of personal space he carries out far more disturbing than his casual attitude towards property. The elegance of the lifts is also brought neatly to the fore by Bresson's close-ups on Michel's hands. Each lift is carried out with the elegance and poise of a ballroom dancing routine, the economy of movement as impressive as it is disturbing.

Inspired by Crime And Punishment, the script counterpoints Michel's undeniable talent with his moral ambiguity. He becomes a thief for the rush more than the money, constantly pitting himself against society in a war which can only end one way and which only he is fighting. During several conversations with other characters, Michel goes into great detail about how theft is an art form and whilst he argues passionately, it's unclear exactly why he feels this way. He's a man intelligent enough to know that he's lost but not aware enough to do anything about it until it's too late.

Very nearly a character study of Michel alone, the film also contains able support from several extremely impressive talents. Marika Green is excellent as the compassionate, tender Jeanne, whilst Pierre Leymarie is also impressive as Michel's best friend Jacques. However, the standout from the supporting is Jean Pelegri as a police inspector more concerned with saving Michel from himself than keeping the public's wallets safe from him. His conversations with Michel are highpoints of the film, providing a philosophical counterpoint to the impressive but ultimately petty and meaningless thefts.

Slow, measured and at times almost silent, Pickpocket is, at times, very hard work. However, with naturalistic performances, Bresson's unique vision and an unusual and ultimately uplifting script, it really does reward perseverance. Recommended.
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