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  • Writer's pictureMiles Stephenson

Pickpocket (1959), Robert Bresson [3.5/5]

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

I have long been a fan of Robert Bresson's minimalism, as seen in A Man Escaped (1956) and L'Argent (1983); with his unique centering on his character's hands and the minor details of spaces, Bresson can spin a complex tapestry of motives and actions with only glances and gestures. While watching his crime dramas, one thinks of TV writer John Rogers' 2009 term "competence porn," which he defines as "the thrill of watching talented people plan, banter, and work together to solve problems... specifically [while] using cleverness and hard work." Like the prison escape sequences in A Man Escaped (his masterpiece in my opinion), Bresson charms with close-ups of this tactile competence in his protagonist Michel the pickpocket as he surreptitiously unclasps his victim's watches and clutches and evades policemen in the Parisian metro of the 50s.

Unfortunately, Pickpocket often feels too thin, too stripped of feeling that it alienates the viewer from the emotion of the story. Besides Michel's trickster thrills, Pickpocket's story is rudderless: what is Michel building towards besides his own downfall? The subplot of his sick mother is the only character motivation we get (and this itself is given only in minuscule doses), and his romance with Jeanne is not engaged with in a meaningful way for the audience until the end. For these reasons, I far prefer his other films with the exception of Au Hasard Balthazar (I know I'm in the minority with disliking this one, but that's a story for another day). 3.5/5 stars, a good study of Bresson's minimal style, but surpassed by the rest of his oeuvre.

Miles Stephenson

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