Pickpocket (1959) The Journey Of A Light Fingered Frenchman

Pickpocket (1959) designer Christian Broutin poster artwork film Bresson

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.

Pickpocket (1959) Robert Bresson film Michel (Martin LaSalle)

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.

Pickpocket (1959) Robert Bresson robbing on train thief michel

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.

Pickpocket (1959) Robert Bresson film Michel (Martin LaSalle) Jeanne (Marika Green)

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.

Pickpocket (1959) pocket thief in action stealing wallet

  • 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.

Pickpocket (1959) Robert Bresson Jeanne (Marika Green)

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.

Pickpocket (1959) director Robert Bresson fancy french reflection in shop window Paris

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…………………

8 thoughts on “Pickpocket (1959) The Journey Of A Light Fingered Frenchman

  1. Mikey! Wow! Fantastic writing. Stellar review. I haven’t seen this one but I’m going to. As I was first reading it I immediately thought of La Samourai and then you referred to it. You turned me on to that great film. I loved it. I’m sure I’ll love this one too.
    “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.” Whoa, Mikey. That’s some remarkable descriptive writing. Slow your roll. I’m getting jealous. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh that’s very sweet indeed Pam, thank you. It’s nowhere as good as Le Samourai IMHO but it is a really intriguing watch and I liked it very much. Like I say, you just wanna give the lead a good shake, maybe even wallop him with a haddock. But it’s cool and French, features that masterful trio of pickpocketing scene and it has a runtime of only 76 minutes. So it’s nice and easy to squeeze in. Thanks again Pam, I doff my hat to you 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed this one too, especially as you mention, that smooth sweep through the train station, picking people totally clean 🙂 and putting the empty wallet back! I liked A MAN ESCAPED too, the prep work in that one leading up to the escape is every bit as riveting as the actual event.

    Liked by 1 person

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