Pickpocket

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Synopsis

In one of Robert Bresson’s most admired, intriguing and influential films, resolute drifter Michel spends his days learning the art of pickpocketing and targeting the unsuspecting citizens of 1950s Paris.

After his inevitable arrest (and almost immediate release), Michel reflects on the morality of crime, developing a vague theory that exceptional individuals are above the law. Lost in another world, he rejects his friends in favour of a life of crime and is seemingly set on finding his place in the world by engineering a head-on collision with society.

‘One of Bresson’s masterworks’ The Guardian

‘Cerebral and resolutely sensual’ Time Out

‘An unmitigated masterpiece…I adore Pickpocket and can watch it endlessly. To me it’s as close to perfect as there can be’ Paul Schrader

Picture 9/10

BFI presents Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket on Blu-ray, delivering the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and encoded at 1080p/24hz high-definition. This title is a UK release and has been locked to region B.

BFI’s presentation comes from the same 2K restoration—sourced from the 35mm original negative—that Criterion used for their 2014 edition, yet it somehow ends up looking a bit different. For starters the image is notably darker here with heavier shadows. This took me aback at first but I have to say it ends up being more of an appropriate look for the film. Shadows come out looking richer thanks to the deeper blacks while range in the grayscale ends up feeling a little wider. The encode is also cleaner in comparison to Criterion’s, the fine grain looking a little sharper. Object detail comes out better and there’s a wonderful film texture to the image.

The restoration work still looks extraordinary, very fine scratches being all that really remains, and you really have to be looking for them to see them. All around the image looks great, and it does manage to look a bit better than Criterion’s.

Audio 6/10

BFI delivers the film’s monaural audio in 2-channel lossless PCM. I though it sounded about the same as Criterion’s audio presentation: age limits things a bit and dialogue does sound a little flat, but the film’s music does manage to show a bit of range and does sound incredibly sharp.

Extras 7/10

Criterion pulled together great material for their edition that included archival footage of “slight-of-hand artist” Kasagi performing, and though BFI’s edition is missing material similar to that I think they’ve still managed to pull together an decent collection of features, including an all-new 11-minute interview with director Paul Schrader. Schrader has talked about the film extensively through the years (he even provided an interview that appeared on all of Criterion’s releases) and how it played a big part in his becoming a filmmaker, but he updates it here to talk about how Bresson and his “transcendental style” directly influenced First Reformed. It’s again a great appreciation, but I was a little surprised that he doesn’t bring up The Card Counter considering it shares a number of similar themes and visuals.

BFI also includes the 52-minute 2003 documentary Models of “Pickpocket,” directed by Babette Mangolte, which also appears on Criterion’s release. In it the filmmaker tracks 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 how Bresson worked with his actors. Unsurprisingly he was pretty hands on in getting their performances the way he wanted. LaSalle, who played the film’s protagonist, ended up living in Mexico and still managed to get acting work. It's worth watching if you haven't come across it yet.

Presented as an alternate audio track over the first 48-minutes of the film is audio from a Q&A with Bresson, conducted in 1971 at the National Film Theatre and hosted by John Russell Taylor. Bresson was there to pick up a BFI award (which is noted at the end of the session to be the only award they give out yearly) for his then-recent film Four Nights of a Dreamer, based Fyodor Dostoevsky’s White Nights, so the conversation and most of the questions from the audience do revolve around that film and Dostoevsky. I will confess I had a hard time hearing the audio in places as it’s in rough shape (not BFI’s fault) so I didn’t pick up portions of what was being said, but they do discuss how Bresson has evolved, so to say, as a filmmaker, mentioning at one point that he feels he has become “quicker” at making films and improvises more (at least, I think that’s what was being said). He’s also asked about his thoughts on Luchino Visconti’s take on the same material, Le notti bianche. Optional subtitles would have been nice but it’s still a good inclusion.

BFI then digs up a few films from their archives, all of them having a loose link to the main feature. There are two shorts, running around a minute each, the first being Thefts from Handbags, a 1961 public warning targeted at women to always keep an eye on their purses! Following that is Snatch of the Day, apparently a play on a program called Match of the Day. It presents two sport-broadcaster types offering a play-by-play of how pickpockets commit their crimes.

The most interesting of the shorts is the Crown Film Unit's 41-minute Four Men in Prison, which works to depict (in a positive light) the English prison system and the part it plays in hopefully reforming criminals. As the title suggests it focuses on four prisoners, each one representing a different type of offender: one is there for his first offense (and not handling it well), another is a youth there for two years for "corrective training" after having what he calls a "good time," a third may be mentally disabled, and the fourth is a repeat offender who dryly notes he has returned because he is "reforming gradually." For a government produced film that has that educational vibe and is almost certainly sugarcoating things I have to say it's incredibly well done and entertaining in it's own little way. I was also surprised by the quality of the presentation: though little restoration has been done the base scan is exceptional.

The disc closes with two trailers: the original followed by BFI’s 2022 re-release. They then include a 21-page booklet limited to first pressings. The booklet first features an excellent essay on the film by Adrian Martin, and it’s a bit disappointing BFI didn’t get him to participate in a commentary. Michael Brooke then provides a brief piece covering Bresson’s career, the booklet then finishing with notes on the features. These notes include a lengthy bit on Four Men in Prison and explains its reason for existing and how it probably played a part in the government eventually putting the existence of the Crown Film Unit under scrutiny. The essay also notes that the film may not have even been screened since Sight & Sound never covered it at the time. As usual it’s another nicely put together booklet by BFI.

I still prefer the material Criterion was able to pull together for their edition, but what BFI delivers here is still both interesting and fun to work through.

Closing

BFI’s edition delivers a slightly better presentation over Criterion’s previous Blu-ray release.

BUY AT: Amazon.co.uk

 
 
Directed by: Robert Bresson
Year: 1959
Time: 75 min.
 
Series: BFI
Licensor: MK2
Release Date: July 11 2022
MSRP: £14.99
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.37:1 ratio
French 2.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region B
 
 Robert Bresson Q&A (1971, audio only, 47 mins): the director in conversation with John Russell Taylor, recorded on stage at the NFT during the 15th London Film Festival   Paul Schrader on Pickpocket (2022, 11 mins): Schrader discusses his relationship with Bresson’s film and how it has influenced him   The Models of Pickpocket (2003, 52 mins): Babette Mangolte’s documentary tracks down Pickpocket’s performers to discuss their experiences of working with Bresson   Archive shorts: Thefts From Handbags (1961, 1 min): British television spot warning women to watch out for thieves; Snatch of the Day (1975, 1 min): John Krish’s sporty public information film on the tricks of the pickpocketing trade; Four Men in Prison (1950, 41 mins): controversial drama-documentary from the Crown Film Unit using real-life prison situations to address the purpose of incarceration   Original theatrical trailer   Reissue trailer (2022)