Less is most definitely more in the late Robert Bresson's brilliantly pared-down and powerfully austere study of a compulsive pickpocket Michel (Martin Lassalle), who achieves an unlikely redemption through the love of a sympathetic woman (Marika Green). Shot in 1959 on the streets of Paris, and the first of the French director's films not to be an adaptation of a literary text, it features a cast of deliberately inexpressive non-professional actors.
"My feet no longer touched the ground. I dominated the world," explains Michel after his first theft from a lady's handbag at a racetrack. And it's the desire to recapture this ecstacy rather than any material gain, which propels the protagonist on his self-destructive path.
"A DREAM-LIKE QUALITY"
The fetishistic way Bresson films the pickpocketing sequences confers an erotic dimension upon Michel's criminal activities, with the camera lingering on hands and faces, and recording the way fingers dip into jacket pockets to retrieve wallets and money. A breathtakingly choreographed sequence at the Gare de Lyon has Michel and his accomplices working their way through a crowd, passing the stolen valuables to one another with sublime dexterity.
There's a dream-like quality to the monochrome Pickpocket, which lasts for just 75 minutes: it's impossible to gauge how much time passes between sequences, whilst Bresson uses sound and music sparingly to heighten the mysterious atmosphere. If the ending in which a sinner finds salvation seems familiar, it may be because Paul Schrader, the author of a famous book on Bresson, pinched Pickpocket's finale for both American Gigolo and Light Sleeper.