A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
One of the early images in Robert Bresson's “Pickpocket” (1959)shows the unfocused eyes of a man obsessed by excitement and fear. The man's name is Michel. He lives in Paris in a small room under the eaves, a garret almost filled by his cot and his books. He is about to commit a crime. He wants to steal another man's wallet, and he wants his face to appear blank, casual.Perhaps it would, to a casual observer. But we know him and what he is about todo, and in his eyes we see the trance like ecstasy of a man who is surrendering to his compulsion.
Or do we? Bresson, one of the most thoughtful and philosophical of directors, was fearful of “performances” by his actors. He famously forced the star of “A Man Escaped” (1956) to repeat the same scene some 50 times,until it was stripped of all emotion and inflection. All Bresson wanted was physical movement. No emotion, no style, no striving for effect. What we see in the pickpocket's face is what we bring to it. Instead of asking his actors to “show fear,” Bresson asks them to show nothing, and depends on his story and images to supply the fear.
Martin Lassalle, the star of “Pickpocket,” plays Michel as an unexceptional man with a commonplace face. He is not handsome or ugly or memorable. He usually wears a suit and tie, disappears in a crowd and has few friends. To one of them, in a cafe, he wonders aloud if it is all right for an “extraordinary man” to commit a crime--just to get himself started?
Michel is thinking of himself. He could probably get a job in a day if he wanted one. But he does not. He gathers his narcissism around himself like a blanket. He sits in his garret and reads his books, and treasures an image of himself as a man so special that he is privileged to steal from others. Also, of course, he gets an erotic charge out of stealing. On the Metro or at the racetrack, he stands as close as possible to his victims, sensing their breathing, their awareness of him. He waits for a moment of distraction,and then opens their purses or slips their wallets from their coats. That is his moment of release, of triumph over a lesser person--although of course his face never reflects joy.