Pickpocket Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
On a notebook, a hand writes as a voiceover explains: “I know those who’ve done these things usually keep quiet, and those who talk haven’t done them. Yet I have done them.”
The next shot is on a purse and currency being handed off at the racetrack. A man in a suit watches it as one might an attractive woman at the beach. He stands in the crowd and wonders if he has the nerve. He stands behind an older woman and debates to himself. Then he reaches down, delicately opening the woman’s purse. He glances down only to make sure he has what he wants, otherwise, he stares straight ahead. When the action on the track completely distracts the crowd, he takes the money and heads off. He had the nerve.
Michel (Martin LaSalle, one of the many non-actors director Robert Bresson would utilize throughout his career) describes the feeling of walking on air and having the earth under his feet, and even an arrest won’t stop him. He falls in with a ring of thieves who, like himself, can easily justify their acts. He later finds himself watching a man on the subway. He wonders why, although the answer is clear. He’s obsessed, and even though he could let the man slide, we next see Michel in his apartment preparing for tomorrow. (Through his days, he becomes involved with an inspector (Jean Pélégri, perhaps better known for his literary works) who is suspicious of Michel and the cute Jeanna (Swedish-born actress Marika Green, who would later appear in the 1974 softcore film EMMANUELLE), who develops a relationship with Michel.)
Michel doesn’t do it because he’s a bad person; he does it because he feels it is his right (which, to many, would indeed make him a bad person). And since he’s very skilled, he feels no reason he shouldn’t act on that right. Bresson has no desire to lean the audience one way or the other, and so the viewer is left to determine what to make of Michel themselves.
PICKPOCKET (1959) marks Bresson’s first solo original screenplay (his debut, 1943’s ANGELS OF SIN, was co-written with two others; 1945’s THE LADIES OF THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE, 1951’s DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST and 1956’s A MAN ESCAPED were all based on previously published material), and with it, he has molded one of the masterpieces of 1950s French cinema.
It is a film that doesn’t require all that much dialogue (a lot of it is delivered through voiceover) to get the viewer to ask questions not just about the main character but of themselves. And all we and Bresson need is the extremely short runtime (76 minutes) and a handful of characters for this to come about, because the director was such a master at achieving so much with such minimalistic techniques. (For perhaps the finest example, see 1966’s AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, in which Bresson conveyed soul and loneliness through the eyes of a donkey.)
PICKPOCKET was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 10th Berlin International Film Festival.
PICKPOCKET CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative at Digimage in Paris, where the film was also restored.”
PICKPOCKET looks remarkable in this Blu-ray release, with excellent details/textures and strong contrast that add so much to the visuals of the film and Léonce-Henri Burel’s cinematography. While dirt and debris were removed, the transfer still maintains the grainy look that will please purists.
Audio: French Mono. Subtitles in English. “The original monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the original negative and the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using iZotope RX 3.”
While a little less obvious, the audio transfer is also without flaw, with clean dialogue and an atmospheric quality throughout.
Paul Schrader Introduction (14:48): Writer/director Schrader discusses the influence of PICKPOCKET.
Audio commentary featuring film scholar James Quandt: Quandt, who is senior program at TIFF Cinematheque and editor of the book Robert Bresson, delivers an excellent commentary, detailing the director, the film’s status, the style, the music and much more.
THE MODELS OF “PICKPOCKET” (52:15): This 2003 documentary features interviews with three actors from PICKPOCKET: Pierre Leymarie, Marika Green and Martin LaSalle.
CINEPANORAMA (6:28): In this 1960 episode of the French television program, Bresson fields questions regarding PICKPOCKET.
Q&A on PICKPOCKET (12:56): Actress Marika Green and filmmakers Paul Vecchiali (MALADIE) and Jean-Pierre Améris (LES AVEUX DE L’INNOCENT) share their thoughts on both Bresson and PICKPOCKET in this piece shot in Paris in 2000.
Kassagi (11:35): In this footage from French series LA PISTE AUX ETOILES, sleight-of-hand artist Kassagi, who served as a consult to Bresson, shows off some of his talents.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a booklet featuring an essay by novel and critic Gary Indiana.