Friday, August 02, 2013

Blind Spot: Pickpocket


It was bound to happen eventually, the blind spot streak had been too good of late. I just did not expect it to be this film. I am referring to that moment when you come across a film, that is highly praised by critics and fellow bloggers that just leaves you a little cold. To be honest, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket was a film I was looking forward to the most in this year’s batch of Blind Spot Series titles. The unanimous accolades had me pumped to finally dive into the works of Bresson. I will be the first to admit that maybe I set the bar too high prior to seeing the film.

There is also a very good chance that the film simply caught me on an off day. I was coming off my second viewing of Only God Forgives, so I was already in a cold place going into the film. Though the more I think about, my mood was not that different from the protagonist in Bresson’s film. Michel (Martin LaSalle) exudes a cold selfishness that permeates the film. This might be one of the reasons why I was more fascinated with Michel’s profession rather than the man himself.

As the title of the film suggest, Michel is a pickpocket though not a good one at the beginning of the film. After being arrested, and eventually released due to lack of evidence, for stealing money at the race track, Michel joins a group of professional pickpockets. Moving with expert precision, the group shows Michel all the tricks of the trade. He even learns how to make his fingers more nimble through various exercises including playing pinball.

While Michel’s thieving skills improve, the health of the mother he neglects to see continues to deteriorate. If it was not for a neighbour, Jeanne (Marika Green), taking interest, Michel would have no clue at all as to how his mother is doing. In fact, the only thing that Michel is really concerned with in life is Michel. He is clearly attracted to Jeanne, but cannot see past his own desire for wealth. This results in Michel’s friend Jacques (Pierre Leymarie) swooping in and wooing Jeanne much to Michel’s chagrin.


Michel has bigger problems to worry about than Jeanne though. When it is revealed that money has been stolen from Michel’s now deceased mother, the Chief Inspector (Jean Pélégri) believes he is the culprit. However, with no concrete evidence, he can only keep an eye on Michel from a distance. As Michel’s talents grow with each passing day, so does his ego and overall arrogance. Despite trying to go straight and make a living like an honest man, the lure of quick cash is simply too great for Michel to ignore.

Part of the reason I had problems connecting with Michel was the fact that his motivations were fairly shallow. He could have easily gone the respectable route of getting a normal job to achieve his financial goals, but simply felt he was above that. Like a precursor to the entitlement generation we find ourselves in today, Michel wanted something and felt he had every right to take it. Nowadays a person like that would receive our ire instead of sympathy. Granted I do not think Bresson is asking us to sympathize with Michel. Outside of his supposed redemption, which I do not buy, Michel pretty much stays the same throughout the entire film. I could not see what Jeanne even saw in him by the end. At times it felt like Michel wanted to get caught just so he could turn around and use it to inflate his ego even further.

This is probably why I found the pickpocket sequences so captivating. The film really comes alive when Michel is trying to apply the tricks of the trade on unsuspecting passengers on the train. The fluidity in which the group of pickpockets move was mesmerizing to watch. I almost wish we got some more insight on the group members, but that would turn Pickpocket into a completely different film altogether. Regardless, Bresson does a solid job of showing how Michel’s thefts impact him at an almost erotic level. The final theft in the film is similar to watching the sexual tension of two strangers in a nightclub. The object of his desire slowly struts by, in this case a person flaunting money won at the race track, and Michel, the suitor, simply cannot help but approach in hopes of “scoring”.

I have heard many refer to Pickpocket in context with Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, a book that is surprisingly still in my literary blind spot. As I cannot comment on that aspect, I will only say that film did not hit the high note I was hoping for. That said, I am willing to give Bresson’s Pickpocket another chance. Who knows? Pickpocket might be one of those films that grows on me more with subsequent viewings.

4 comments:

  1. I finally saw this film this past November as I went into a Bresson kick last year. I hope to do more of his work soon as I really enjoyed this one. Notably in the conflicts in Michel as he's someone is trying to get money but is filled with the fear of getting caught as it made the suspense work for me. I hope to revisit the film soon whenever I can get the Criterion DVD probably in November and do more Bresson films next year.

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    1. I plan on exploring Bresson's work a little further in the coming months. After delving into his canon further, I would like to give Pickpocket another spin.

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  2. Bresson is a pretty chilly filmmaker in my experience; that said, I do love Pickpocket and A Man Escaped. They both fit into a sort of cool and distanced crime film mold that I quite enjoy. His more explicitly religious-themed work, like The Diary of a Country Priest, does nothing for me at all. I'm also a big fan of Crime and Punishment, so I think those parallels did add something to it for me.

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    1. Interesting…I will have to add A Man Escaped to my list of films to see. Au hasard Balthaza is another title of Bresson’s that I am intrigued to see.

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