This incomparable story of crime and redemption from the French master Robert Bresson follows Michel, a young pickpocket who spends his days working the streets, subway cars, and train stations of Paris. As his compulsive pursuit of the thrill of stealing grows, however, so does his fear that his luck is about to run out. A cornerstone of the career of this most economical and profoundly spiritual of filmmakers, Pickpocket is an elegantly crafted, tautly choreographed study of humanity in all its mischief and grace, the work of a director at the height of his powers.
The Criterion Collection upgrade their DVD edition of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket to a new dual-format edition, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 1.37:1. The included Blu-ray features the film in a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer on a dual-layer disc, while the DVD presents a standard-definition version, sourced from the same transfer, on a dual-layer DVD. The image for the latter has not been window boxed.
Though Criterion’s previous DVD looked pretty good the upgrade found here—a new 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, as opposed to the 35mm interpositive used for the original DVD—on both the Blu-ray and the DVD offers a substantial improvement in comparison. Though the image on the previous DVD held up well overall, it still had its fair share of damage and could have a fuzzy, somewhat indistinctive appearance on occasion. The image found here on both the DVD and Blu-ray is substantially sharper (the Blu-ray much more so as one would hope) and damage is now limited to more specs and debris scattered about but barely noticeable.
The improvement detail is also significant, with textures come through so much clearer here, look far more natural on the Blu-ray’s presentation. Contrast is also improved and the occasionally murky look of the old DVD is now gone. The Blu-ray does an excellent job in handling the film’s grain structure, keeping it natural, while the DVD doesn’t do too shabby a job as well, though the format still limits it and it can look more like compression than actual film grain.
In either case, whether looking to get this for the Blu-ray or DVD, they both offer a very big improvement and the upgrade may be worthwhile just for the new presentation.
Presented in lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono and the Blu-ray and Dolby Digital 1.0 mono on the DVD, the French audio sounds about as good as one might expect for a film of this type and age. Overall volume and range is fairly flat, but dialogue sounds crisp and clean. The film’s use of classic music is about the only place where the audio livens up a bit, but not by much. Still, the music sounds fine and doesn’t come off distorted or edgy, or at least no more so than one would probably expect. Overall audio quality is excellent, with no noticeable pops or drops and no background noise.
Again it’s limited more by age but for what it is and what the film calls for it’s perfectly fine.
Criterion ports over everything from the previous DVD edition, presenting the features on both the Blu-ray and DVD. First is the same 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.
Paul Schrader also provides a 15-minute introduction to the film. 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.
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’s essay on the film then appears in the included insert, adding another analytical slant to the release. It looks to be the same essay that appeared in the original Criterion DVD.
Though nothing new is presented here they’re still a solid set of supplements, and should prove to be of great help to newcomers to the film and Bresson’s style.
Nothing new in the way of supplements but they’re still an excellent set and the new transfers on both the Blu-ray and DVD offer noticeable improvements over the old release.