Thursday, May 25, 2006


1959, France, directed by Robert Bresson

Bresson's Pickpocket is a salutary reminder that the directors of the nouvelle vague didn't entirely emerge from the ether, nor did they have a monopoly on artistic innovation (indeed, by the time Godard, Truffaut and others emerged at the end of the 1950's, Bresson had already matured as an artist), although given Bresson's asceticism it's no great surprise that he took a back seat in terms of public visibility (and no great surprise that the sheer charm of a film like A Bout de souffle led to its over-valuation). 

While superficially simple, Pickpocket tends to raise as many questions as it does answers, for the motivations of the characters are opaque and even inexplicable - in this, the lead character certainly evokes Camus's anti-hero Meursault, although Bresson's notion of redemption is rather different. The director pares the dialogue down to an absolute minimum; words, unlike in so many French films, provide little explanation for the characters' state of mind, and the actors sometimes deliver startling information in the blankest of tones, very much part of Bresson's unique style. The (swift-moving) action -- particularly in the virtuoso re-creations of various pickpocketing techniques -- effectively draws the viewer in, but even given the film's brief running time it proves hard to sustain the air of near-existential mystery, while the lack of any psychological insight makes the ending hard to swallow; there's no sense of the context from which the resolution abruptly emerges.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States