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Pickpocket (Criterion Collection) (1959)

Cast: Martin LaSalle, Marika Green, Pierre Leymarie, more...
Director: Robert Bresson
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Studio: Criterion
Genre: Drama, Foreign, France, Crime, Criterion Collection
Running Time: 75 min.
Languages: French
Subtitles: English
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Director Robert Bresson chose Uruguayan nonactor Martin LaSalle for his leading man in Pickpocket. LaSalle's inexperience works against the film for some viewers, though Bresson himself was satisfied because his star proved himself a quick study in the art of lifting wallets (a genuine pickpocket was engaged as "technical adviser"). Essentially, the story is a character study of a cocky young criminal who becomes so entranced by the act of picking pockets that he literally can't stop himself. The Bressonian technique of concentrating more on the mechanics of the plot than the emotions of the characters is, as always, a matter of taste. Filmed in 1959, Pickpocket was released in the US in 1963. Loosely inspired by Feodor Dostoyevsky's novel Crime and Punishment. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Pickpocketing His Poor Cast-members by talltale January 23, 2006 - 3:49 PM PST
6 out of 7 members found this review helpful
I come to this film as a PICKPOCKET-virgin, having decided only recently to view as many as possible of the movies of classic French filmmaker Robert Bresson. After finishing this short one (just 75 minutes), I felt pleased to have seen it yet somewhat perplexed by its enormous reputation. Then I watched fillmaker Paul Schrader's "Introduction" and the interviews with actual cast members that were taped relatively recently. I am now even more perplexed.

If you get through the entire DVD (from Criterion, with its usual top-quality transfer), I defy you not to have a few--maybe many--second thoughts about this acclaimed director. The movie itself, short and reticent, like much of this director's work, is fine, as far as it goes. And as much as I appreciate Schrader and his films, I must take issue with his commentary. If you watch the movie carefully, you'll find such obvious mistakes as the same extras walking through the same scene twice. One would imagine that a director supposedly as desperately attuned to reality as Bresson might have caught glitches like this.

According to interviews with cast members, Bresson insisted on doing some 30 to 40 or more "takes" of a person walking up a flight of stairs (or mouthing a line of dialog repeatedly until the actor is so bored with it that the line becomes monotone). This, to Bresson, equaled "reality" and he preferred it to any "acting" his cast might be able to supply. Evidently the man never noticed that human behavior, in all its oddity and complexity, is what's real, and so he effectively wiped out all behavior from the film. While he may have achieved more control over things in this manner (think Gordon Craig and his dream of "automaton" actors), it renders his work, on one level, utterly lifeless.

This brand of non-acting appeals to certain people, and I admit it has its interesting results. Yet, in every way that Bresson is said to have stretched the boundaries of film by "transgressing"--perversely denying the viewer what's expected--he has actually managed to "expand" cinema's horizons by closing them down. The film is never less than watchable, although its ending, which Shrader feels (along with, I am sure many, other Bresson-ites) presents real emotion for the first time in the film, may strike some of us as simply a tad too hokey.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.71)
94 Votes
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Village Voice's 100 Best Films of the 20th Century
When the Village Voice held its "First Annual Film Critics' Poll" they asked 50 or so film critics (like Molly Haskell, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Andrew Sarris) to rank their top ten best films of the century. This is the result.
Paul Schrader's Canon: 50 Essential Films
As seen in the writer-director's lengthy, invigorating article in Film Comment Magazine.

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