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Pickpocket Review

By David Kempler

I Was Pickpocketed When I Paid to See This Movie

This guy couldn't pick the pocket of a blind man who had been dead for 3 years.

Before seeing Pickpocket, I had heard it hailed as a classic example of cinematic minimalism. Since I was unsure what that exactly meant I did some research. One of the definitions I ran across was: "In the film industry a very simplified form of realism. Minimalist cinema almost takes on the form of documentaries in that few, if any of the technical innovations of the industry are used. Camera in hand (possible on a stand), few props, little scenery and a loose script bring this aspect of filmmaking to the bare minimum."

Pickpocket certainly does have somewhat of a documentary feel to it because of its lack of technical innovations, few props, little scenery and a loose script but it's also quite obvious that it is being acted, poorly, but still acted.

Director Robert Bresson is considered a giant of minimalism but after seeing this film I'm not sure if that is a compliment or not. Either I hate minimalism or this movie is pure unadulterated garbage, although I suppose both conditions may indeed be true.

Supposedly, Bresson lived in a constant fate of fear of 'performances' by his actors. He must have been ecstatic when this film was in the can because I can't detect a single performance in this stupid little film. Bresson desired that no emotion ever rear its ugly head in any of his films and I'm glad to report that he has attained his goal in Pickpocket. What we do have here is a primer on how to pick pockets. That would be okay if it looked like the pickpocket was any good at his trade but the pickpockets in this movie would be discovered immediately and have their lights punched out if they tried these techniques on the streets of New York.

Martin Lassalle stars as the pickpocket (Michel) and Bresson goes to great lengths to show us that Michel is an unexceptional man with a commonplace face. More success for Bresson. Not for a single second is it even fathomable to consider Michel as anything more than ordinary. Actually, ordinary itself is a stretch. The man is an idiot who operates without rhyme or reason. What passes for deepness in this movie is Michel pondering aloud if it is all right for an 'extraordinary man' to commit a crime--just to get himself started?

There is an allusion to some form of romance between Michel and his mother's next door neighbor, a young girl whose character almost makes sense but she too is unbelievable. Watching her makes one wonder if she has been lobotomized earlier in life.

I'm certain that I have not given a good enough explanation of minimalism or this film but to better understand what is going on here all you need do is get your hands on episodes of the original television series Dragnet. Jack Webb's style of acting is almost identical to Lasalle's. At least on Dragnet, Webb's partner moved his arms when he walked. Pickpocket would definitely have benefited from Harry Morgan's presence, but one must assume that Bresson wouldn't have used him anyway. He would have preferred Webb. Bresson probably never contacted Webb to star in a film, which is a shame. The result would have made for great cinematic farce. Add one star if you're brain dead.

What did you think?

Movie title Pickpocket
Release year 1959
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary An inept pickpocket played by an inept actor and directed by an inept director.
View all articles by David Kempler
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