Pickpocket: a revered French director explores redemption in this classic film

Opening at Showroom Cinema on Friday 3 June, Pickpocket is a BFI re-release of the 1959 French film from director Robert Bresson.

Pickpocket follows Michel (Martin LaSalle), a young man of intellectual background but who finds himself unemployed in late-50s Paris. Michel starts stealing from unsuspecting strangers, for reasons unclear even to himself. Pickpocketing becomes a habit he has no control over. An unfolding sensual thirst and a building numbness, combined with a lack of morality, keep him wanting to take more. After his inevitable capture and almost immediate release, Michel spouts vague theories about exceptional individuals being above the law – but is he lost in another world. Michel rejects the support of his friends in favour of continuing with his new lifestyle, and teams up with a gang of petty thieves to further develop his newfound craft. The only way Michel can seem to find a place for himself in society is to engineer a head-on collision with it. Pickpocket is a film about self-fulfilment, morality and redemption through love.   

A devout Catholic, director Robert Bresson repeatedly returned to tales of transgression, redemption, and grace through his filmmaking. Pickpocket is a key example of this. Bresson’s highly distinctive style influences the storytelling of his film to illuminate the many mysteries of Michel’s inner life. Bresson states of his filmmaking, “I’d rather feel a film before understanding it” and uses his skills to convey his characters’ intense feelings, which are never confirmed. Emotions are expressed through the film using methodical sequencing, expressive sound, confessional narration and close attention to physical detail. Bresson depicts Michel’s inner life with conflict and an ironic desire to feel guilty for his crimes. Through his stylish sequencing, Bresson suggests, though never states, that Michel would even like to love his mother or his friend Jeanne, but Michel can’t feel a thing. Pickpocket is an intricately staged and intimate character study of Michel as he delves into the depths of society. 

 Known for his emotional intensity, simplicity, and reserve, Bresson was revered by fellow director Jean Luc Goddard, who even described him as “the French Cinema”. Pickpocket is the first original screenplay from Bresson, and shows the director making a departure from his earlier, adapted screenplays. He selected Martin LaSalle, who was an amateur actor before this film to play the leading role. Consequently, Pickpocket is a testament to the director’s filmmaking. One of his most widely acclaimed films, it won the 10th Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear award. Pickpocket is also known to have inspired Paul Schrader to create Taxi DriverAmerican Gigolo and Light Sleeper.  

Pickpocket opens at Showroom Cinema on Friday 3 May. Tickets are now on sale

This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 02 June 2022.


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