"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."