johnlink ranks PICKPOCKET (1959)

Well, another small milestone here at johnlink movies. PICKPOCKET marks review number 600. Break out the champagne, blow up some balloons, toss some confetti. Or, alternatively, enjoy a ranking of a French film from the dawn of the New Wave. Either way, it’s going to be a party. Or. I suppose… a review about a movie which can be a little depressing.


I watched PICKPOCKET (1959) on 12.19.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

Robert Bresson is one of the fathers of the French New Wave. He borrows imagery from the American Film Noir movement and the Italian Neo-Realist movement to offer a new French style of straightforward character driven film.We know this from film history. We know that from text books. We know that, partly, because Bresson begins PICKPOCKET by straight up telling us that he isn’t making a typical thriller but, rather, a unique kind of movie.

Yet, despite all this, PICKPOCKET seems born from a film movement still finding its identity. The presentation is rather straight-forward, save for a voice over narrative reminiscent of what Billy Wilder did fifteen years earlier in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Bresson knows how to set up a shot, and he creates some wonderfully vivid pictures in tight areas. He allows the camera to wait. He follows the titular events with grace and a doting admiration. Perhaps the story is simple, but the filmmaking treats the subject as if there is nothing wrong with simple.

PICKPOCKET tells of the education of Michel (Martin LaSalle). He decides, quite calculating, to become a pickpocket. He is terrible at it at first. His meandering career seems to indicate that he’s never been good at much. He finds the right mentor and soon becomes quite adept. There is a girl he likes, Jeanne (played by 16-year-old Marika Green), who seems guardedly interested in him. When the cops begin to suspect Michel, he flees. He learns that Jeanne has had a baby and starts stealing for her. When Michel says “I”ll look after the child,” it is unclear whether he means the baby or Jeanne herself. Jeanne is young. Perhaps too young. But the film doesn’t judge Michel for this. It embraces this.

Thematically, this is a story about a man finding himself and finding love. In the modern world he can’t do this in an honest way. He must discover himself through the increasingly unexciting world of thievery. It is hard to say he loses it all when it is unclear that he never really has anything at all. What is right? What is moral? The film wants us to decide.

Bresson uses actors who are not trained, as was often the case in the early days of the New Wave. LaSalle is very solid as Michel. Green is spectacularly vulnerable as Jeanne. Her performance keeps us glued. Her presence makes us hope for Michel’s success if only to see her Jeanne find happiness and peace. The use of non-actors is neither a great help or hindrance to the style of the film, though Bresson certainly hit a home run with Green.

PICKPOCKET is not, perhaps, as landmark as THE 400 BLOWS. That is still the film, made in the same year, which stands as the standard bearer of the French New Wave. PICKPOCKET is not bad, not at all. Yet the feeling evoked is not that of a masterpiece, but rather of a filmmaker still deciding how best to tell a story.





~ by johnlink00 on December 19, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: