Pickpocket (film)

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French theatrical poster
Directed byRobert Bresson
Written byRobert Bresson
Produced byAgnès Delahaie
StarringMartin LaSalle
CinematographyLéonce-Henri Burel
Edited byRaymond Lamy
Release date
  • 16 December 1959 (1959-12-16)
Running time
75 minutes

Pickpocket is a 1959 French film directed by Robert Bresson. It stars the young Uruguayan Martin LaSalle, who was a nonprofessional actor at the time, in the title role, with Marika Green. It was the first film for which Bresson wrote an original screenplay rather than "adapting it from an existing text."[1]

Pickpocket is generally considered to be one of Bresson's greatest films.[2]


Michel goes to a horse race and steals some money from a spectator. He leaves the racetrack confident that he was not caught when he is suddenly arrested. The inspector releases Michel because the evidence is not strong enough. Michel soon falls in with a small group of professional pickpockets who teach him their trade and invite him to join them on highly coordinated pickpocketing sprees in crowded public areas.

Visiting his mother, Michel meets Jeanne who begs him to visit his mother more often. His friend Jacques goes on a date with Jeanne and invites Michel along. But after stealing a watch, Michel leaves Jacques and Jeanne at the carnival. While they are at a bar, the inspector asks Michel to show him a book by George Barrington about pickpocketing, bringing the book to the police station on an appointed date. Michel goes down to the station on that day, with the book. At the station, the inspector barely glances at the book. Michel returns to his apartment realizing that it was all just a ruse to search his apartment. However, the cops failed to find his stash of money.

Michel's mother dies, and he goes to the funeral with Jeanne. Later, the inspector visits Michel in his apartment, and tells him that his mother had some money stolen, but later dropped the charges, probably knowing the thief was her son. The inspector leaves without arresting Michel, who decides to leave the country. He travels from Milan to Rome and ends up in England where he "spent two years in London pulling off good jobs", but throws his earnings away on alcohol and women.

Returning to France, Michel returns to Jeanne, who has had a child by Jacques but did not want to marry him and is now left with nothing. Michel begins to work again to support her, but gives in to temptation and goes back to steal at the horse track, where he is caught by a plainclothes policeman. Jeanne regularly visits him in jail. On one such visit, Michel realizes he is in love with her.



Bresson has said that Pickpocket "was written in three months and shot in the midst of crowds in a minimal amount of time."[3] The resulting disorder proved to be a challenge during shooting, but was sometimes used to the crew's advantage, as in the Gare de Lyon sequence.[4]


The film has been called an example of "parametric narration"[5] in which the style "dominates the syuzhet [plot] or is seemingly equal in importance to it".[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert sees echoes of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment in the film. "Bresson's Michel, like Dostoyevsky's hero Raskolnikov, needs money in order to realize his dreams, and sees no reason why some lackluster ordinary person should not be forced to supply it. The reasoning is immoral, but the characters claim special privileges above and beyond common morality. Michel, like the hero of Crime and Punishment, has a 'good woman' in his life, who trusts he will be able to redeem himself.... She comes to Michel with the news that his mother is dying. Michel does not want to see his mother, but gives Jeanne money for her. Why does he avoid her? Bresson never supplies motives. We can only guess."[7] As any viewer may observe, Michel gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse with a police inspector, much as Raskolnikov does in the Dostoyevsky novel.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 95% of 40 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 9.0/10. The website's consensus reads, "Narratively spare and told with clockwork precision, Pickpocket is a carefully observed character study that packs an emotional wallop."[8]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Pickpocket exerted a formative influence over the work of Paul Schrader, who has described it as "an unmitigated masterpiece" and "as close to perfect as there can be", and whose films American Gigolo, Patty Hearst, Light Sleeper, First Reformed and The Card Counter all include endings similar to that of Pickpocket.[9] In addition, his screenplay for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver bears many similarities, including confessional narration and a voyeuristic look at society. Schrader's admiration for Pickpocket led to his contribution in an extra in The Criterion Collection's DVD release in 2005. Schrader also voted Pickpocket in one of his top 10 favorite films for the Sight and Sound 2012 poll for the greatest films of all time.[10] The Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos listed the film on his top ten films of all time for the Sight and Sound 2002 poll for the greatest films of all time.[11] German-American actress and screenwriter Christa Lang have listed the film in her top 10 films of all time.[12] The German filmmaker Werner Herzog praised the film by calling it "phenomenal" and "...it just make me ache. So intense and so beautiful… It makes you ache, it’s so beautiful".[13] The American filmmaker Richard Linklater listed the film in his top 10 film list from the Criterion Collection.[14][15] The Dardenne brothers's film L'Enfant was influenced by Bresson's film Pickpocket.[16] The British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan was influenced by Pickpocket (along with Bresson's other film, A Man Escaped) for his film, Dunkirk.[17]

Pickpocket has been paraphrased by other films, such as Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont-Neuf.[18]


Pickpocket was nominated for the 10th Berlin International Film Festival's Golden Bear award.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Joseph Cuneen, Robert Bresson: A Spiritual Style in Film. New York: Continuum (2003): 71.
  2. ^ Semley, John (9 February 2012). "Robert Bresson". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2 March 2017.
  3. ^ Cardullo, Bert, ed. (2009). The Films of Robert Bresson. Anthem Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-1843318255.
  4. ^ Bresson on Bresson: Interviews, 1943-1983. New York Review of Books. 2016. ISBN 978-1681370446.
  5. ^ Robert Stam, Robert Burgoyne, & Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics: structuralism, post-structuralism, and beyond. New York: Routledge (1992): 74.
  6. ^ Lennard Højbjerg & Peter Schepelern, Film Style and Story: A Tribute to Torben Grodal. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Forlag (2003): 92.
  7. ^ Roger Ebert (6 July 1997). "Pickpocket (1959)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  8. ^ "Pickpocket". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 29 November 2021. Edit this at Wikidata
  9. ^ Sheila Johnston (25 January 2003). "Film-makers on film: Paul Schrader". Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 4 August 2003. Retrieved 18 August 2007.
  10. ^ "Votes for Pickpocket (1959)". BFI. British Film Institute. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  11. ^ "Theo Angelopoulos". BFI. British Film Institute. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  12. ^ "Christa Lang-Fuller's Top 10". The Criterion Collection. 20 November 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  13. ^ Literary Hub (10 August 2016). "Werner Herzog on the Books Every Filmmaker Should Read". Literary Hub. Retrieved 23 September 2021. Herzog: "...Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket. This is phenomenal; it just make me ache. So intense and so beautiful… It makes you ache, it’s so beautiful. And we also watched his Au hasard Balthazar about the donkey Balthazar. It’s an incredible film."
  14. ^ "Richard Linklater Presents Robert Bresson". A-BitterSweet-Life. A-BitterSweet-Life. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  15. ^ "Richard Linklater's Top 10". The Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  16. ^ Manohla Dargis; A. O. Scott (22 May 2005). "Two Belgians Win Top Prize at Cannes for Second Time". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 August 2021. The Child, a Belgian film directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, won the Palme d'Or as best film at the 58th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday night. The film, which follows a young petty thief as he struggles with the moral dilemmas of fatherhood, was inspired by Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and influenced by the classic French film "Pickpocket," by Robert Bresson.
  17. ^ Leonard Pearce (28 February 2017). "Christopher Nolan Inspired by Robert Bresson and Silent Films for 'Dunkirk,' Which Has "Little Dialogue"". The Film Stage. The Film Stage, L.L.C. Retrieved 23 September 2021. “I spent a lot of time reviewing the silent films for crowd scenes –the way extras move, evolve, how the space is staged and how the cameras capture it, the views used,” Nolan tells Premiere Magazine. The director revealed that he brushed up on silent films such as Intolerance, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and Greed, as well as the films of Robert Bresson (notably Pickpocket and A Man Escaped, to dissect the process of creating suspense through details), Wages of Fear, and, of course, Saving Private Ryan.
  18. ^ Guy Austin, Contemporary French Cinema: An Introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press (1996): 134.

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