It was the poster art by designer Christian Broutin that sparked my attention with this French film. The beautiful simplistic artwork is so striking. The black silhouette of our shifty looking lead centered on a blue backdrop with what I first thought were white doves around him. With a second look those doves revealed themselves as white gloves portraying this young man’s light fingered skills. For Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a pickpocket and he’s ready to palm off wallets, watches and handbags when the chance arises.
I believe I’m right in saying we don’t know what Michel did before the story begins for us. Maybe stuck in a dead end job, maybe just drifting through life as a loner then one day he decides to become a pickpocket. We first get to watch Michel try out his puppy dog eyed, innocent poker face look whilst going in for the prize at a race track. Slowly working his hand into the handbag of a lady within the crowd. Expertly timing his movements to the distracting noise of galloping horses and excited gamblers transfixed on their fateful race result. Now he’s got the buzz, the hit, the prize, now he is addicted to the act.
It’s not all plain sailing for this tea leaf. Michel is shortly picked up by the fuzz, he’s not as good as he thinks. Michel lives in a dark, rundown, small roomed apartment within a block of flats. Cracks riddle the plaster work, the door lock has been broken off many times, it’s sparse and depressing. It’s a place to sleep. A few blocks away in the neighbourhood lays his elderly ill mother, desperate to see her son. He has no time or passion for her, we can only guess why. She is looked after by Jeanne (Marika Green) a lonely, beautiful and kind young lady. If Michel wasn’t so consumed by his compulsive nature to steal I’m sure he would of noticed the charming Jeanne.
She is at arms length away, with an innocent longing for this strange quiet man. He could be happy with her. He could also go get a job, he’s certainly capable. But no, he’s caught in his own obsessed world, consumed by the art of stealing. He prowls the Paris streets, beginning to hone his skills but it’s not until he falls in with two professional pickpockets that he really starts to shine. Taken in under their wing they teach him everything he needs to know. All the tricks of the trade. From distraction, to slide of hand, to working in a team, a nudge here, a hand placed on a shoulder there, to slipping a wrist watch off with in seconds. The more he learns the deeper he gets.
- Be sure to look out for the train scene when the three men work as a team, it’s like watching an orchestra. The amazing thing is all the moves are of authentic pickpocketing techniques. You can only imagine some wannabe thieves would of studied this film before venturing onto the streets. It’s fascinating to watch.
This film really ticks off everything I love with stories told like this. An enticing style of staged shots and cinematography. A bewitching slow pace building intrigue, moving in to reveal it conclusion with its character development. For me it had it all but! I struggled with the complete lack of emotion in Michel’s character. I saw him in some ways like Alain Delon’s Le Samourai character Jef Costello. Two men devoid of emotion, probably both autistic in one way or another but with Jef Costello you did feel something for him? Where as Michel, well you just want to grab him through the screen and give him a good shake but that is what obsession and addiction can do to you. And with that Bresson and his leading man got what they wanted to achieve and I’m sure to be revisiting this film again soon.
With finding Pickpocket I see Robert Bresson is a renowned director of many films. That’s one of things I so love about doing this film blog is the cinematic journeys and avenues you take all seem to lead me on to new discoveries and connections. A Man Escaped looks essential viewing for me, can you recommend more of Robert Bresson work? Much obliged.
Feel free to comment about the film below if you wish. Thanks for popping on it. Enjoy discovering and rewatching movies. All the best… Mikey Wolf
PS Just to bring the tone down, here’s one of my favourite Redd Foxx jokes.
What’s the difference between a pickpocket and a peeping tom?
One snatches watches and the other…………………