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Event Key:

  • SO Sold Out
  • BB Bringing up baby
  • KC Kid's Club
  • DF Dementia Friendly
  • CC HOH Subtitled
  • SB Subtitled (Foreign Film)
  • Directed by Robert Bresson
  • Starring Pierre Leymarie, Dolly Scal, Kassagi, Martin La Salle, Jean Pelegri, Marika Green
  • 1960 | 73mins | France | BBFC Rating: (PG)

PICKPOCKET (1959), one of the greatest films of the minimalist French director Robert Bresson (1901-1999).

In Paris in the late 1950s, Michel (Martin LaSalle, a non-professional actor at the time), a young man of intellectual background but unemployed, makes his living through petty theft from strangers. Caught out in an unsuccessful attempted theft at a horse race, he tries to justify the exhilaration of the expert thief to the police inspector who interviews him, gloomily and quite openly betraying his own feeling of superiority to society coupled with a certain urge towards self-destruction. He is released, but kept under observation. The death of Michel's mother (whom he had also stolen from), and the reactions of his friends Jacques and Jeanne, stir up his conscience. But when he meets a master pickpocket who trains him and takes him on as a partner, he reverts to theft with dedicated, albeit pessimistic, enthusiasm.

In his fifth feature, a character study of a petty thief - who does not primarily steal for financial gain - Bresson's screenplay was inspired by Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Using terse narration by Michel himself and showing his diary entries, Bresson's austere, stylish drama, brilliantly edited to reveal Michel's practice and skill in sleight of hand, seeks to understand the reasons for his immoral behaviour.

PICKPOCKET is a favourite of contemporary directors including Werner Herzog, Lynne Ramsay and Richard Linklater, and heavily influenced Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER.

Intentionally not a thriller but certainly not without suspense, Bresson's film is profoundly ambivalent about Michel's ethics, sexuality (he seems aroused by his thefts), his capacity for compassion and his courtship of suspicion in others. His isolation, however, is undeniable. A riveting morality tale reminiscent of both Hitchcock and Dostoevsky, it's imbued with the director's distinctive rigour. Part of the Phoenix's CLASSIC season.