Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Art of Stealing: A Classic Scene from Bresson's Pickpocket, Sunday at Belcourt

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 6:06 PM

Robert Bresson’s movies were known mostly by reputation here until the Cinematheque Ontario undertook a remarkable retrospective that toured North America [in 1998]. Not only did it allow the filmmaker to see his work embraced by a wide new audience just before his death, in 1999, it rebutted the standard yap that his movies were the embodiment of artsy pretension. Along with 1956’s A Man Escaped, a prisoner-of-war movie that conveys both the torment of confinement and the exhilaration of escape, Pickpocket is the most accessible film in his developed style.

And yet if you’ve never seen his movies before, it still may seem like sensory deprivation compared to the usual megaplex thunder: actors whose changes of expression register like ripples on concrete, scenes that deliberately omit what we’re accustomed to expecting as dramatic climaxes. As Pickpocket makes clear, though, his movies aren’t pretentious, just tough. Bresson’s study of a compulsive, spiritually benumbed pickpocket (Martin LaSalle) may not have the trumped-up machinery of a mystery plot, but it exerts the tension of unwavering scrutiny. Every shot of this 75-minute movie seems to have been pared to its essence of gesture, detail and significance. It seems slow because everything matters.

In a sense, Pickpocket is about the debasement of touch. The emphasis is on hands disconnected from their owners—hands, and money. The first shot is of a hand scrawling in a journal; the second, of a hand removing bills from a purse to place bets at a racetrack. The movie’s centerpiece, a marvel of film choreography, is a montage of swift fingers relieving various owners of their wallets and billfolds at a train station—a thief’s-eye view of humanity as a sea of yawning pockets. ...

Read the rest of the article here. The movie screens Sunday. Also, follow this link to hear writer-director-critic Paul Schrader describe how the movie inspired his screenplay for Taxi Driver.

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