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Pickpocket

Director: Robert Bresson

France| 1963. English subtitles. Black and white. 76 min.) New 35mm print.


Robert Bresson (1901-1919) was one of the foremost artists of the modern cinema. A fastidious and uncompromising filmmaker, his work has an unmistakable style and expresses a strong personal vision. The word most often used to describe his films is austere. Like his contemporary in the theatre, Samuel Beckett, Bresson reduced his art to its barest essentials. His films are slow and deliberate, devoid of cinematic flourishes, and use very little dialogue or dramatic devices. Although many of Bresson’s films began as literary adaptations, the results always made for pure cinema. One of Bresson’s masterworks, Pickpocket is about a petty thief whose escape from the imprisonment of his own life and spirit stems from his acceptance of love and actual confinement in a prison cell. At first, Michel (Martin Lasalle) can only find a role in society by picking pockets. It is an exciting, almost sexual adventure, a kind of pact with the Devil. It is only when he is visited in prison by Jeanne (Marika Green), the girl who looked after his mother before she died and is now abandoned with a child, that Michel comes to realise that his whole life could be changed by love.
Although indebted to Dostoyevski’s Crime and Punishment, Pickpocket is first and foremost a brilliant variation on the director’s common themes, many of which derive from his Catholic background: the quest for spiritual freedom and fulfilment, the attempt to control destiny, the ultimate acceptance of fate. The rigour of Bresson’s style builds to an unforgettable climax that achieves a state of transcendental grace. ‘It’s an unmitigated masterpiece, ‘ wrote critic and filmmaker Paul Schrader, who borrowed from Bresson’s film in his scripts for Taxi Driver and American Gigolo.

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