(1959) dir. Robert Bresson
I had never seen a Robert Bresson film before catching a double feature at the Castro last year. Both Au hasard Balthazar (1966) and Mouchette (1967) were amazing films, serious downers while also transcendental. Transcendental is a word that is often used to describe Bresson’s work, and it’s kind of easy to see why. There is something, perhaps less spiritual per se, but maybe more akin to the way you might describe something that was existential. It’s more the intent and the tone than the experience. Maybe it’s just me that I think if you describe something as transcendent that you are implying yourself somehow in the experience.
Interestingly, Bresson was inspired by Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953) to create this film, so incredibly opposite of Fuller’s hammy, fun film about the slick thief. Bresson created a film that opposes traditional filmmaking in subtle ways: in pacing, acting styles (very flat), use of music (in rare instances), and his overall narrative itself. It’s not jarring like a Godard film, but rather slowly off-setting. Bresson’s pickpocket is not the streetwise, tough-talking Richard Widmark, but does possess a similar cavalier attitude towards the world. However, Michel, is in a serious crisis in his life, and he is unaware of how to extricate himself. He simply moves on through life.
There is something in both films that struck me when the pickpockets are slipping into ladies wallets. It’s very sexual, tactile, and eroticized. Much of the other wallet-stealing is more pure sleight-of-hand dexterity and art. But the process of the ladies’ purses take more time and also cut back and forth to their passive, yet dreamy faces.
This is a film that I had heard mentioned many times and have had on my list for ages. It’s a very beautiful film, subdued and downbeat. However the ending is less tragic yet similarly uplifting than his later work. It was an interesting pairing with Pickup on South Street. I’d recommend it as a good double feature.