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 ,Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne ), and is considered a classic of French cinema.
Michel, played by Martin LaSalle, largely ignores his aging mother, played by Dolly Scal, except to steal from her. His mother is looked after by a caring neighbor, Jeanne, played by Marika Green. The wilful thief ignores the well-meant advice of his friend Jacques, played by Pierre Leymarie. But Michel enjoys fencing with, and quoting the brilliant Russian novel CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, with L'Inspecteur principal, a chief inspector of Paris police, played by Jean Pelegri, who is on his case. Michel studies the book PRINCE OF PICKPOCKETS (1930), a biography of the Irish pickpocket George Barrington written by Richard S. Lambert. Michel is eventually caught and jailed for his thievery; upon his release, he finds that his mother has died, but Jacques and Jeanne are still where he left them, Jeanne with a toddler. Critics interpret this to mean he is being offered a chance at a better life.
Bresson is considered a leader of the French avant garde school of minimalism, and this film is admired to this day. It has recently been shown at New York's prestigious temple of modernism, the Museum of Modern Art. I find its minimalism a bit puzzling. On the one hand, Bresson's actors here seem to be largely wooden, hardly acting, and Michel wears the exact same, badly fitting black suit, white shirt, black tie in every scene, even after we have seen him knocked down in a scuffle, with his trousers torn at the knee. Even after his release from prison, six years after the main action of the movie. On the other hand, the streets of Paris are always lively, filled with extras accurately dressed in the current styles. The movie, seems to me, presents a very accurate picture of Parisian street life and social life at the time, particularly the way the young of the great and beautiful city live.
I have seen and reviewed, in these pages, the filmmaker's A MAN ESCAPED, and LES DAMES, which I liked, and Au Hasard Balthazar, which I did not. Your response to PICKPOCKET, I expect, will depend upon your tolerance. For black and white, subtitles, and a still odd piece of French film-making.