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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex Film About A Man's Search For Significance
"Pickpocket" never grabs us the way a standard movie does. The plot is difficult to extract, and the storyline is never as easy to understand as we might like. Minimalism is at play, although it never overtakes this complex film about a man's search for meaning in the bowels of his own soul.

Just as with movies like "Passion of the Christ," or "Clockwork...
Published on June 1, 2006 by A.Trendl

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Odd Avant Garde Classic Not to Everyone's Taste
PICKPOCKET, (1959). This stylized film, a 75 minute black and white crime drama, follows a Parisian pickpocket named Michel, who develops a compulsion to steal, at which is he largely successful. It was written and directed by the greatly admired French painter turned film director Robert Bresson, ( A MAN ESCAPED, LS DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE), and is considered a...
Published 15 months ago by Stephanie De Pue

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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex Film About A Man's Search For Significance, June 1, 2006
"Pickpocket" never grabs us the way a standard movie does. The plot is difficult to extract, and the storyline is never as easy to understand as we might like. Minimalism is at play, although it never overtakes this complex film about a man's search for meaning in the bowels of his own soul.

Just as with movies like "Passion of the Christ," or "Clockwork Orange," my appreciation of the movie is not because I felt good throughout, but because throughout the movie, I was able to think about what makes humankind and the shape of redemption.

"Pickpocket" is an art house film, with its long vignette style, with Hitchcock-like shots and film noir-like shadowing.

Michel, the main character, develops a desperate fetish for pickpocketing. He learns to be good at the techniques of pickpocketing. He practices wrist watch stealing with the leg of a table as the arm.

No one is lonelier than Michel in his fetish. He knows it is wrong and is unable to face his own mother. His eyes are almost always downturned. They are partly looking for the next steal, and partly unable to face the real world.

All of Michel's relationships are void of passion and intimacy. The closest relationship is that with a police inspector who knows Michel is a thief but chooses not to prove it. He sees good in Michel and tries to steer him out of the lifestyle.

Throughout, Michel is selfish, even when he gives his mother money. That is to appease his guilt, not to lift his mother's finances or encourage her spirits.

Michel, unable to escape his fetish, justifies criminals at large by suggesting some, as artisans of their craft, should retain a kind of freedom to steal. However, he never describes the noble benefit, like James Bond's license to kill provides, which in Bond's case is to save the Queen, and, ostensibly, the world. Rather, it is by the merit of being good at his craft that he would thinks should be enough, but the inspector, nor Michel himself, are ever truly convinced.

Jeanne, the plainly attractive neighbor who often cares for his mom, is strangely interested in him. They have only a matter-of-fact connection, not sensual or romantic in any way. She represents a meaningful existentiality, living as the lover to Michel's friend Jacques (who she does not really love), and helping her elderly neighbor. Michel's as existential as Jeanne, but without the redeeming selflessness that makes Jeanne more human.

Michel dearly wants redemption, and knows his futile lifestyle can only end in despair. He wants more, and when confronted with the likelihood of being arrested, he leaves Paris for several years. When he returns, he learns Jeanne has a child of a long-gone lover.

The opportunity for redemption is clear to audience, but is it to Michel? And what would it look like for a man as obsessed with his own desires as he is, since redemption requires us to look outside of ourselves to live a better life?

I fully recommend "Pickpocket."

Anthony Trendl
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Outsider, January 31, 2003
Doug Anderson (Miami Beach, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pickpocket [VHS] (VHS Tape)
All of Bressons films deal with some character who does not fit into society for some reason. His heros are all rebels like Dostoyevsky's hero's(Pickpocket is based on a Dostoyevsky story) and Camus'. They are stories about people who do not fit in and while studying just how and why they don't fit in Bresson also studies society itself. Some of his movies are just plain bleak but this one has an ending that makes this film unique among this directors work. I think it is rightly singled out as the best though that doesn't mean it's the only one worth seeing. His films are complex and the more of them you see the more his films makes sense. Bresson is a director who does demand his viewers think and he frames his scenes in a way that rebels against cinematic norms in the same way his characters rebel against societal norms but in that style is much substance. If you are only going to see one Bresson film this is the one to see but if you want to see more I would suggest L'Argent after this one. Diary of a Country Priest is excellent but I think best appreciated by those who have already grown familiar with Bresson's style. Each of his films are quite unique and one of my favorites is Lancelot of the Lake which is a most interesting re-telling of that famous legend.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bresson loved his subject, so will you, November 9, 2005
Pickpocket is probably the most accessible of director Robert Bresson's films. Depicted with an almost clinical attention to detail, the pickpocketing sequences are amazing and beautiful. It's easy to sense the fascination and perhaps even the admiration of the director as he choreographs the movements of two and later three pickpockets working together on Paris trains and at a racetrack.

Bresson's subtle camerawork is also showcased. In one sequence, a montage of the thief Michel learning the tricks of his trade, we are shown how he stretches his fingers and rolls a coin between them to increase their suppleness. Then, in the same shot, the hand picks up a cup of coffee and brings it to Michel's lips. The shot begins as a continuation of the montage and then suddenly changes. This one shot goes from the representative to the specific, creating a subtle jarring effect. Bresson doesn't use standard movie devices to grab our attention. A simple tilt of the camera from hands to face succeeds in accomplishing what other filmmakers might use more flamboyant techniques to achieve. Bresson was truly a genius.

An added bonus is Paul Schrader's fifteen-minute introduction to the film in which he explains the subtlety of Bresson's technique. I've read Schrader's book, Transcendental Style in Film, three times and always find more in it. Yet in his fifteen-minute introduction Schrader explains the premise of his book as well as Bresson's unique approach with amazing clarity. Along with several other short pieces about Bresson and the actors (whom Bresson calls "Models") and a commentary by James Quandt, this is one of the best DVDs I've seen years.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple and Effective, October 24, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Pickpocket [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Much has been made of Bresson's austerity, which is valid, yet what comes from that simplicity is simply one of the most emotional films in the history of cinema. There is no attempt to manipulate emotions in the conventional Hollywood style, Bresson lays it out for the viewer, in the filmic equivalent of the objective correlative, and what arises is awe and a longing for redemption.
Bresson was notorious for doing multiple takes, effectively stripping his actors of all energy and facial expression. The viewer cannot rely on the characters to express their feelings in the typical sense, he or she must pay careful attention to what is said and to gestures made in order to decipher the subtext.
The station sequence is the finest testimony for film in terms of seperating it from the novel. More often than not, what is done in film can be done just as well in prose, but not the station sequence, where the viewer is thrusted into a world of thievery. It's payoff comes from the observation of technique and the effectiveness of the montage, what you see leaves you speechless.
Bresson's film are an acquired taste, and require much patience. However, the payoffs are enormous.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crime and Punishment, Bresson style, July 15, 2006
Looking like a French movie but sounding like Russian literature with all the furniture cataloguing removed, Pickpocket is from the days when Bresson still drew more naturalistic performances from his non-professional casts rather than turning them into stilted and self-conscious mannequins (although Marika Green falls into the latter category, always looking at her feet as if her lines were written on her shoes in classic Bresson automaton mode), and combines the sleek look of a studio policier with a pared down moral debate from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, with theft replacing murder.

Unlike Bresson's more obviously spiritual films (A Man Escaped, Au Hasard Balthazar, Diary of a Country Priest), there's no religious quest here: instead, there's a determinedly atheistic one, with Martin LaSalle's would-be Prince of Pickpockets pursuing an ideal of intellectual elitism as justification for crime against society's morality, failing to realise that he's just another of the thousands of petty egotist in the criminal little leagues. He simply has the ability to articulate his own notions of superiority, completely unaware that he probably works harder at his criminal skills than he would ever do at a proper job.

It's also possibly Bresson's most overtly cinematic work despite the underplaying of the dialog scenes. The fluidity of the railway station sequence, with its extraordinary display of tricks of the trade that seem more magic act than crime (the DVD also includes an extract from sleight-of-hand advisor and supporting player Kassogi's cabaret act) and the stylised nature of the sound that always keeps LaSalle at a slight remove from the world around him are much more exhilarating displays of technique than you usually associate with Bresson's more controlled and understated approach in his other films, as even he gets caught up in the LaSalle's addiction to the perfect high that only crime can give him. In that respect, it's the Bresson film you can safely recommend to people who hate Bresson fans without losing points with the faithful.

Criterion's DVD is a good one, boasting an excellent transfer of the film on disc one with several interviews - including a virtual interrogation of a faltering Bresson on French TV and a trio of interviews with LaSalle, Green and the articulate and intelligent Pierre Leymarie that are all to often broken up by the interviewer's self-indulgent naval-gazing - as well as TV footage of Kassogi's cabararet act.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pickpocket Brilliantly Dissects the Human Psyche in the Shadow of Morality..., January 21, 2006
A Customer (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
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Robert Bresson's genius rests in his awareness that actions often reflect on reality, as the action is something that physically affects its surroundings. By stripping the scenes from emotions and only displaying the actions with complete strangers, the audience gets a sense of genuine presence through the character's actions. To further the meaning of the action, Bresson displays a minimal amount of reactions to the acts taken by the characters such as facial expression or body language. It leaves the viewer with the cold atmosphere where the interactions bring out a true sense of what is taking place on the screen with a clear impression without misunderstandings. Thus, the deeds committed within the film tell the truth without the combination of acting and pointless gibberish of words that often blurs the situation through truths, half-truths, and lies.

Interestingly, Bresson opens the film with a shot of a hand writing down the beginning of self-confessional statement, which belongs to the main character. The initial statement remains enigmatic, as the film lyrically transitions the film into progression where the audience will learn what the main character has to confess. Through superimposing, the first scene with a pair of gloved rich female hands and a wad of money it allows the viewer to learn the truth of the confession. The gloved hands transfer the money to suited man who enters a line for on-site racetrack betting. Throughout the sequence, the hands are fiddling with the cash between the fingers, as the protagonist and antihero Michel's (Martin LaSalle) ogles the wealth switching hands while being within his reach. Bresson triggers a similar reaction that Pavol's dogs experienced when they salivated to the stimuli of the bell, as the fingers are fondling the money. It helps the audience to identify with Michel on various levels such as thinking about what the money could help provide. In this opening the audience learns the hands significance, as hands are what nurtures the protagonist's actions, which will inevitably lead to trouble.

At first, it seems that the internal desire is driven by greed, but shortly after Michel's first pick pocketing the emotional high of the possibility of apprehension due to the illegal act seems to be one of the motivating factors. Michel's voice-over statement strengthens this notion when he states, "I was walking on air, with the world at my feet." Clearly, he senses an emotional high, which also displays emotional arrogance nourished by his recent success. However, to Michel's dismay, he goes down in flames, as the police arrest him fleeing the scene, but they are forced to release him due to lack of evidence. In addition, his home seems to support the idea that wealth does not have a significant meaning to him, as he leaves all his doors unlocked for anyone to enter at any time.

Some of the motivating forces within Michel appear to be shame, guilt, and paranoia. These emotions seem to emerge through the Oedipus complex that he possesses in relation to his internal desire to pick pockets. He knows it is wrong, yet the desire overcomes his awareness of its immorality, which feeds his feelings of guilt, shame, and paranoia. At the same time, the exhilarating stimuli of succeeding, as he puts it "I was walking on air, with the world at my feet" is worth the risk of shame. These feelings remain throughout the film, but as Michel becomes a student of a master pickpocket he also begins to defeat his feelings with confidence. Nonetheless, the police remain in a not too far distance to remind him of his illegal activities, which allows for shame, guilt, and paranoia to linger throughout the film.

Pickpocket provides a fascinating tale of a man and his vocation, as it allows for the audience to drift into a deeply personal perspective on the motivations that drive a man to do what he does. With the help of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment Bresson brings out the psychological and moral aspects of the story. However, he is far subtler, as he does not deal with the axing of a human. Together with the music and the scene framing the acts of the characters deliver several absorbing ideas in regards to how and why Michel acts in the way he does. The minimalism that Bresson is known for also helps highlight many of these vital aspects of the film, as it does draws attention to what truly is important - the acts of human beings.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally free, behind bars, June 11, 2003
This review is from: Pickpocket [VHS] (VHS Tape)
"Predestination/free will is a complex and contradictory concept, and Bresson's prison metaphors adapts to this complexity." Paul Scrader -in his book Transcendental Style in Film.
Bresson is a formalist who avoids psychological acting, instructing his actors to be mannequins. He strips away all emotion and judgement (no tracking shots or camera angles..just straight on) He does'nt trust emotions, he's not documenting outer reality, he's documenting the reality behind the surface. He's a minimalist that strips down to bare form.
Set against this iconography, is the fluid dance of the pickpockets subtle - you would not even realize that you had beeen touched.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Redemption through crime, September 23, 2014
Robert Bresson's 1959 Pickpocket is a celebrated film which appears regularly in top 100 polls of not only critics, but of directors as well. It is indeed a wonderful film, especially as shown here by Artificial Eye's beautiful presentation. The picture (original aspect ratio 4:3 - 1.33:1) is very sharp and well-defined with the Dolby Digitalized mono sound as good as it could possibly be in the DVD format. AE add an extra disc to the package which carries some very interesting extras. Most instructive is a 1962 interview on the French TV program Cinépanorama with Bresson himself in which he faces down some pretty tough questions as if he is Joan being questioned by the judge in The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962). Then there are interviews with three members of the cast, the Uruguayan actor Martin Lasalle (who plays the film's main character Michel) being tracked down to deep obscurity many years later living in Mexico City. Totally different from his appearance in the film, his penetrating eyes are still instantly recognizable. There is also a discussion of the film in front of students between Marika Green, Jean-Pierre Améris and Paul Vecchiali which probes fairly deeply into the film. Lastly there is an interesting oddity - Kassagi (who plays Michel's pickpocket teacher) performing his variety act on stage for La piste aux étoiles a 1962 French TV show. Potential buyers should note that Criterion offer the same extras in their region 1 package which also includes a James Quandt commentary, an introduction by Paul Schrader and a booklet essay (actually offered gratis on-line) by Gary Indiana. However, that is expensive compared with the AE set.

Bresson made Pickpocket on the back of the financial success of A Man Escaped (1956) and is similar in many ways. First there are the stark credits displayed while a piece of classical music is played. In A Man Escaped it is Mozart, in Pickpocket it is Lully. Vast portions of both films play in virtual silence and the music punctuates proceedings to reflect moments of advance in the main characters' central journey toward spiritual salvation. Every Bresson film harbors a Jansenist predestinarian search for grace in its main character - a search which succeeds at least up until color invaded the director's universe (in Une femme douce [1969]) when his world view became ironically much darker. In A Man Escaped Fontaine's search for redemption is rendered simply by charting his escape from prison. In Pickpocket Michel is in prison at the start and the whole film is shown to be a dramatization (Bresson would have hated that word!) of his confession written behind bars and narrated in a first-person voice-over (A Man Escaped is also based on a written text - a memoir given in a first-person voiceover). His journey to redemption happens in reverse to that of Fontaine. Fontaine is a good man falsely imprisoned who fights to attain freedom - Michel is a bad man, a pickpocket whose imprisonment itself represents his final redemption. It's a journey he has had to unknowingly take to become worthy of Jeanne (Marika Green) who in the film's final sequence forgives him for his sins in the manner of a confessional through the bars as the Lully wells up on the soundtrack.

According to conventional catholic thinking redemption is something earned through having lived a good God-fearing life and we might find it odd that Michel is `rewarded' despite being a bad man. However, one of the precepts of Jansenism is that God grants grace at random - it is granted irrespective of whether the man in question has `earned' it or not. This comes from the belief that one's redemption has been pre-destined and nothing that a man can do by himself between birth and death can alter the final result. Man therefore reaches his redemption by good means or foul and for this reason like Fontaine's 'goodness' in A Man Escaped Michel's `badness' is rendered intensely poetic, if not ecstatic in the numerous scenes throughout the film in which Bresson with his regular cameraman L. H. Burel show pickpocketing to be a graceful art form - especially the wonderful train station scene where hands move through clothes and bags lifting wallets, purses and watches in exquisite poetry married perfectly to Lully's sublime music. In the hands of a lesser director this scene would be show-cased with obviously brilliant editing and technical bravura, but with Bresson there is always the sense that his technique is at the service of his underlying theme no more and no less. He celebrates crime knowing that in the dynamics of this story it represents a spiritual epiphany for Michel on the road to pre-destined redemption.

Michel is a poor young man acted on from high to pursue his pickpocketing occupation - it is a compulsion he is impelled to carry out by 'fate'. Starting with him stealing from his mother (not shown but related later in the film), following him to the racetrack (where the film begins) and then down into the Paris Metro, Bresson shows our anti-hero to be completely without psychological motivation (of which Bresson was always distrustful) and completely remorseless in the effect his actions has on others, notably his only friend Jacques (Pierre Leymarie), the girl Jeanne who comes to care for him and the priest-like paternal detective Jean Pélégri who is seemingly on to his every move and is patiently trying to guide him away from crime as if he were his own son. Michel's only justification for his actions comes in the scene with the detective where he equates himself with a Nietzschean Übermensch (Superman). He thinks that certain members of the aristocratic mentality are superior and therefore above the law so that their actions can help a society arranged largely by and for the plebeian morality. It is an argument Bresson took from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment in writing the scenario for the film (actually the first he used without adapting from an existing text) and a valid explanation of that feeling every thief/murderer has of being above the law and therefore of being `free'. For Michel however it is rationalizing after the fact as Bresson lets us know by the very language of the film's narrative structure and the visual style of the film. He is simply another man fulfilling his life's destiny without question. We know his fate from the opening inscription after the credits and his actions as related in his confessional diary are simply those of a man who puts one foot in front of the other abrogating self-will in the process.

Martin Lasalle's performance (if we can call it that - it is more like a `presence') is blank and shows no emotion in the tradition of all Bresson's `models'. Throughout the film he is led by others (the plainclothes policemen at the beginning, Jacques, the detective, Jeanne), Bresson constantly pointing his camera at grey square empty spaces (doorways, hallways, stairs, passages, etc) into which he walks, head bowed and consigned to whatever will happen next. Like all Bresson's main characters, things happen to him rather than from him. The only character towards whom any kind of expression is shown is the pickpocket Kassagi when he teaches Michel the pickpocketing art in the backroom of the café - the look of sheer awe on Michel's face is a revelatory moment being as it is the only moment in the film where he shows any emotion at all. It is the moment that leads to his greater absorption in his craft, the consequent warning from the detective that he knows about Michel's original theft from his mother and which leads to his flight away from Paris. All of this is related with typical Bressonian economy, excluding all but the bare essentials - the two year trip to Milan and London is completely elided for example.

Back in Paris his discovery of Jeanne in dire financial straights with a young child (fathered and abandoned by Michel's former friend Jacques) sets Michel on the right road working to support the poor mother and child. However, Michel's prior life of crime has not been atoned for yet and he needs to pay the price to be worthy of Jeanne's love even if he doesn't as yet know it. This begs the film's final question. It finishes in true cyclical fashion back at the racetrack. Does Michel let himself get caught so as to willingly repent his crimes (as written up and made visual by the film all along), or is he simply caught in the act of returning to his prior dissolute lifestyle? Bresson offers no firm answer. I suspect the latter as voluntarily giving himself up would be an act of free will which Bresson has been at great pains throughout the film to demonstrate he doesn't possess, but there is at least a glimmer of ambiguity here which allows us to choose for ourselves. Whichever way, the film's final meeting between Michel and Jeanne through the prison bars is a magical ending of an altogether remarkable film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gallic Raskolnikov, September 12, 2008
Kerry Walters (Lewisburg, PA USA) - See all my reviews
It's taken me awhile to learn how to appreciate Bresson's films--my fault entirely, not his--but now that I've cottoned onto his cinematic way of speaking, I'm progressively overwhelmed with admiration for what he does. No wonder he only produced a handful of films in a lifetime that spans almost an entire century. He's a meticulous master who carefully and unhurriedly plans each of his movies down to his actor's smallest gesture.

"Pickpocket," like so many of Bresson's films, is a combination of visual story-telling and narrative overlay. One hears the story and sees the story in that duplication that is Bresson's signature. (Sometimes, in fact, there's a tripling effect.) A young intellectual convinces himself that he wants neither human attachments nor conventional lifestyle. He is an ubermensch, above the norms of morality and society. Like Raskolnikov, although without the Russian character's horrible transgression, he begins to live outside the law. He becomes a pickpocket, eventually throws his hand in with a gang, and is finally caught and thrown into jail where, with the help of a young woman's love, he realizes that he neither has nor wants the stuff to be an ubermensch. To put it in a biblical phrase that Bresson would probably like, his heart of stone gets replaced with one of flesh.

"Pickpocket" propels the viewer into a kind of denuded landscape in which frills are totally absent. Bresson always used nonactors--he called them "models"--to avoid theatrical falsehoods. He avoided conventional cinematic techniques such as follow-through between scenes. He coached his models in avoiding facial expressions, voice tones, or mannerisms that would manipulate the emotions or empathy of the audience. The flatness of "Pickpocket" is so effective that the final scene, in which the protagonist's cold aloofness melts, at first seems too abrupt, too artificial. Whether it works or not is up to the viewer to decide. But clearly what Bresson is striving for is a sudden whammy effect--a breaking-of-the-ice response on the part of the audience that mirrors the conversion experienced by the protagonist.

The Criterion edition of this film is wonderfully remastered, and its supplemental materials are fascinating. They include interviews with the principle actors 40 years later, a marvelous clip of a pickpocket artist who influenced Bresson's decision to make the film, and most significantly a stunningly brilliant analysis of the film by screenwriter Paul Schrader. Schrader describes Bresson's film as "perverse"--but for Schrader, this is a high compliment, because Bresson's cinematic perversion consists in violating the conventionalities of film making.

At least 6 stars.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the most strongly visual sound film ever made., November 21, 1998
Joe Beirne "Joe B." (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pickpocket [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Bresson could not bear the slightest compromise in favor of the commonplace or the obvious, and had a uniquely disciplined way with actors (he called them "models") and the un-received language of film. This is usually called his "best" film, but he is so completely pure a filmmaker that viewing every one of his distinct, original films is neccesary to fully comprehend him. "Pickpocket" is itself genuinely unforgettable.
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Pickpocket by Robert Bresson
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