The Criterion Collection’s original DVD edition of Pickpocket is presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The title was released just before Criterion started doing window-boxed transfers so thankfully this presentation isn’t.
The transfer still looks rather good almost 10 years later. It’s fairly sharp delivering an excellent amount of detail, even rendering film grain fairly well, though general compression makes it look a bit noisy, but other artifacts aren’t of concern. Contrast and brightness is decent but the film does lean more on the dark side.
Restoration work is impressive, with very few issues remaining. Some scratches and debris remain but the biggest issue is probably the remnants of what appears to be mold: mold rains through fairly consistently leading to a pulsating effect in areas of the screen.
Criterion released a dual-format edition last summer, featuring a new transfer taken from the negative (the transfer here comes from an internegative). That presentation actually cleans up the mold residue and has a sharper image that looks more film-like (even the DVD in the edition has a stronger presentation). Though clearly weaker in comparison this transfer still holds up rather well. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion’s DVD edition loads on a few supplements, starting with an introduction from filmmaker Paul Schrader. He starts off by explaining how he first saw it, the impact it had on him (even influencing him when developing the script for Taxi Driver). He then goes into detail about Bresson’s style and his refusal to manipulate viewers by using conventional film making methods. This of course led to the “blank acting” that his work is accused of containing, as well as his refusal for using music (at least in a typical way). He finds the film language of Bresson fascinating: it feels wrong in how unconventional it is, but it ultimately works. It’s a fine enough examination of the film and Bresson’s style, working as a sort of primer for first time viewers. The intro runs about 15-minutes.
The DVD also features and audio commentary by film scholar James Quandt, covering the film’s production, style, and impact. Quandt spends most of the track talking about his interpretations of the film, which includes what drives the character of Michel (of course pointing out all sexual undertones found throughout) while also making literary connections (Dostoyevsky probably being the most obvious), and focusing on Bresson’s visual language (which was pretty revolutionary at the time) and use of actors, which he used more as models and/or interpreters, humourously stating that Martin LaSalle (Michel) probably has the best dead pan look since Buster Keaton. He also comments on what he considers the film’s weaknesses, primarily a subplot involving a detective that admittedly feels like it’s from a different movie, but mostly sticks to what he admires and loves about the film. Despite the fact it feels like he’s reading from a script or at least a collection of notes, I generally enjoyed the scholarly track, which is a breeze at 75-minutes.
Models of Pickpocket is a 52-minute documentary from around 2003, which finds its filmmaker, Babette Mangolte, tracking down three of the actors (“models”) from Pickpocket, Pierre Leymarie, Marika Green, and Martin LaSalle. Filmed separately the three recall working on the film and Bresson’s style of working with actors (unsurprisingly he was pretty hands on with their performances). LaSalle, who plays the film’s protagonist, is probably the most interesting subject, who now lives in Mexico and still gets work there. Surprisingly it’s a somewhat amusing feature, each individual certainly more livelier than their performances in the film.
Criterion next includes a 1960 television interview with Robert Bresson, performed on an episode of Cinépanorama. Bresson seems a little put off by the interview, but he talks about his style (he’d rather audiences feel the film instead of understanding it) and talks a little about his annoyances with modern films. Rather fascinating but unfortunately only runs about 6-minutes.
A 2000 Q + A performed at a screening of Pickpocket is next included. The short 13-minute segment features Marika Green along with filmmakers Paul Vecchiali and Jean-Pierre Améris. The participants are asked questions, with the two filmmakers addressing the film’s style and feel while Green shares some anecdotes and stories. It’s a decent inclusion that is worth watching, though I wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t here.
The disc then features footage of Pickpocket’s consultant and slight-of-hand artist, Kassagi, from a 1962 episode of La piste aux étoilles. This 12-minute segment proves to be quite amusing as Kassagi performs a number of tricks in front of audiences, including swallowing razors and pulling them out on a string, while also pickpocketing audience members over and over, a few of them obviously not amused. He’s a hell of a performer, though, keeping the entire bit lively and entertaining. Nice inclusion.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer. Gary Indiana then provides an essay on the film in the included insert, adding another analytical slant to the release.
Not a jam-packed edition but the supplements manage to nicely cover the film, including its production and Bresson’s style. 8/10