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Do You Think We'll Be Judged?,
This review is from: Pickpocket [DVD]  (DVD)
So questions Martin Lasalle's Michel of Marika Green's Jeanne as he contemplates the potential spiritual consequences of his criminal obsession in Robert Bresson's masterly human study, made in 1959. This Dostoevsky-like tale of a man's compulsion to steal, driven by a mix of deluded Nietzschean thoughts of 'supermen' and a nihilistic approach to life, is a typically austere Bressonian drama - one in which, in fact, Bresson's favoured minimalist approach to acting actually benefits the sense of dead-pan realism required for the thieves' activities. However, as Michel's bleak, fatalistic tale unfolds, even this most resistant of 'automatons' (if you like) eventually succumbs to the humanity (and spirituality) imbuing Bresson's outwardly stark depiction.
As is this film-maker's wont, Bresson again casts first-time actors in the central roles and, for me at least, here they are pretty much unequivocally successful. Lasalle is hypnotic as the po-faced, waster ('not in the real world') Michel, whose immoral choice to subsist on his pickpocketing earnings is contrasted brilliantly by Green's depiction of 'guardian angel', the resolutely honest Jeanne, whose shy, nervous, averting glances eventually begin to seep into Michel's subconscious feelings of guilt (particularly following the death of his mother, over whom Jeanne has kept a vigil). Similarly, (other acting novices) Pierre Leymarie is good as Michel's other 'guiding hand', friend Jacques, whilst Jean Pélégri is particularly impressive as the kindly police inspector who gives Michel a degree of leeway. The film is also notable for featuring world-famous illusionist Kassagi, playing Michel's chief pickpocketing 'tutor', as well as providing general guidance to the film on the 'art'.
Of course, as well as creating an increasingly engaging aura of personal angst and conflict, Bresson's film is also an impressive technical achievement with cinematographer Léonce-Henry Burel's stark, but evocative, black-and-white photography brilliantly depicting the slick, often complex, pickpocketing scams (whether these be on the Paris Metro or at nearby racetracks). Burel's camera is also very effective at exacerbating the feeling of the 'net closing in' on Michel as it lingers on mysterious, shadowy figures loitering (potentially) with intent. Similarly, Jean-Baptiste Lully's sparse (but often lush orchestral) soundtrack adds to the increasing feeling of an inevitable hand of fate slowly approaching.
Although Michel's 'two year sabbatical' towards the end of the film is rather clumsily done, it sets up what is one of the most poignant and powerful endings in cinema, in which the thief finally achieves at least some degree of spiritual redemption. For me, Pickpocket, is certainly one of this most innovative film-maker's finest achievements.
In addition, the Artificial Eye DVD includes some excellent extras, including an amazing documentary tracking down Martin Lasalle, 40 years on, to his remote home in Mexico.