Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Robert Bresson preferred to think of his actors more like models. I wonder if this was a decision based on Kulyeshov's experiments. Kulyeshov, of course, was the Russian theorist who juxtaposed a close up shot of an expressionless man with random objects like a bowl of soup and a child at play. When shown the combined images, audiences marveled at how the actor conveyed hunger while looking at the bowl of soup, or how tenderly and affectionately he looked at his young daughter while she was playing. Perhaps Bresson similarly used actors with emotionless faces in order for us as spectators to project whatever emotion we could extrapolate from the situations at hand. The situations in Pickpocket lead to a more complex reading than what Kulyeshov was aiming for. There is no one way to interpret how Bresson thought we should feel towards Michel. Instead of manipulating the audience to feel sympathy or disgust as a reaction to what Michel does, Bresson lets us make up our own mind. For example, even though Michel's face remains as blank as ever when he is confronted by the man whose wallet he just lifted on the metro, Bresson holds the shots on the faces for so long that we can't help feeling uncomfortable, as if we're experiencing the feelings that Michel must surely be feeling at having been caught. The interesting thing about this though, is where one person may be feeling shame for having stolen someone else's property, another may feel anger at having been caught in the act. Even though Michel ends up in jail, Bresson doesn't outright say whether he is a "bad" or "good" person. It's up to the audience to decide. My own personal interpretation was that Michel wasn't a criminal, just a lazy bum. Instead of putting forth the effort to find a job, he starts to pick pockets on the train just for kicks. He likes the rush he gets from it, and gets to make a little money as well, thus filling up the hours of the day in a way that doesn't involve reading in his squalid rented room. This concept of Michel's life of crime as a leisure activity is reinforced by the venues he chooses to "work" in as well as his "training". He steals at places like the race track or the amusement park, and sharpens the hand-eye coordination skills needed to pick pockets by playing pinball. He also divvies up the stolen money with his partner by playing cards in the café, to make it less conspicuous that money is changing hands.
To complement the relative emotional passivity of the actors, Bresson avoids any sort of peaks and valleys from the flatlined emotional state of the film by suggesting the action in ellipses. In the scene where Michel is at the amusement park with Jeanne and his friend, he is shown looking at the watch on a man's wrist at the table next to him. The next scene cuts to Michel walking up to his room with his jacket dirty and the knees of his pants torn to show bloody skin underneath. We aren't sure what happened until he pulls the watch out of his pocket, then we realize that he stole it and a chase ensued but he ultimately escaped. Showing the theft of the watch and the ensuing chase would've no doubt been a very kinetic scene that would have disrupted the generally static overall feel of the film.
One element I especially liked was the sound/framework device that Bresson used to suggest the story was a flashback being recounted in a diary entry or a letter being written, almost as a confessional. The film begins with a close up of Michel writing, accompanied by a piece of orchestral string music. Throughout the film we return to these shots of a hand writing with Michel's voice over narration, and the same musical accompaniment. This suggests the narrative is being told to us by Michel as a flashback, but since we never see where Michel is sitting as he is writing, we don't know if he is writing from jail or if it is many years later after his release.

No comments: