Sceptical I may be to those films out there that open with blocks of text rather than actual performance or direction, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket demands this brief interlude of context. C’est la vie, not just the response to such an odd opening, but also to that of the leading man. A string of bad luck sends Michel (Martin LaSalle) on the straight and narrow to leading a civil life, doing away with his petty thievery and ways of old. His temptations grow stronger, the thrill of illegal pursuit and the risk over reward nature of his old moneymaking ways are near impossible to stay away from. Pickpocket engages with this theme well, but stutters rather frequently.
The worst jitter of all comes from the narration and placement of leading man Michel. Devoid of charisma or interest, and not bolstering any form of unique presence, Pickpocket falters greatly when trying to deal effective storytelling blows. It jabs at themes often, some working more than others due to this dreadful implementation of narration. Shoehorning stylish choice such as this should only be crafted if they can benefit the film in some way. Pickpocket does not benefit from this stringent narration, filled with dialogue that isn’t quite up to scratch. All of it could easily be adapted and changed to fit communication, rather than diving into the bland mind of an idiot.
Still, it’s not all bad. Bresson always brings interest to his pictures, and his direction throughout Pickpocket is no exception. Some slight uses of the soundtrack provide a nice montage of pickpocketing moments, explaining and expanding on the idea of how difficult it would be to get away with these petty crimes. As they pile on top of one another, the charges and risks become severe, always wanting to reach for that next rung on the ladder. Our leading man is, inevitably, his own undoing. But watching him receive his comeuppance and the high life he leads before it is rather dull.
Another Bresson film that looks good and articulates its themes with necessary gusto, but spirals when its performers or script are involved. There’s no denying the competency and impressive nature of the craft, not least because of how early into the career of Bresson it is, but also with how it conducts its story. A shame about the leading man though, who has all the charm and wit of a persistent parasite. No matter how hard we try and shake away from his bland notions and unscrupulous manner, there’s no real way to cut ties with a man without a voice of his own.