By Johrah

Pickpocket by Robert Bresson (1959) (France) is a masterpiece “as close to perfect as there can be” states Paul Schrader (Wikipedia, Pickpocket). Indeed, Pickpocket is a work of art of truly precise shots cut and pieced together to form another one of Bresson’s masterpieces.

The story was simple, yet unclear. Michel, the main character, usually converses using his voice over thoughts and letters and rarely his own speech. However, the element that drove the story was the cuts and shots rather than the actor himself.

Throughout the movie, all the actors had hardly any expression at all. Their expressions were blank and their voices were fast and monotonus. It was as if they lacked all emotion. However, Bresson states in an interview that he tries to “draw them towards the automatism that occupies such a large part of our lives.” (Bresson, Bresson (on cinema) ).


In “Pick Pocket” Robert Bresson, only used one close up shoot in the whole film which was at the ending where Jeanne visit Michel at Jail and though out the whole film the music did not sinc with the film at all, there was a 2 second lack before the action happens, like where the opening of the door can be shorter but instead you will have to see and wait for a few second for the next action to begin. Robert Bresson was trying to disturber the YOUR anticipation giving YOU a sense of uneasy. But why did he do so?

Well, i believe he was trying to make you JUMP! That’s why, through the whole film you will feel uneasy with the unsinc of the music and also with the editing, But then at the very end where the tension gets very high, (the part where Jeanne visit Michel) all the sudden the music came in smooth, just in time and for the first time there was a close up shot! There is where i believe is the part that he wants you to focus on and feel the emotion of the film.


Bresson referred to his actors as “models”. Most of Bresson’s films had un-professional actors that was chosen for their intense facial asceticism (Pavelin, Robert Bresson). It was as if he wanted the viewers to look into their soul rather than being distracted by their outward expression.


Michel in jail

It was clear that the actors were not the ones who brought out the emotion in Pickpocket, but it was the film that brought out the emotion in the actor. The opening of the film began with this statement “The style of this film is not that of a thriller, using image and sound, the filmmaker strives to express the nightmare of a young man” (Bresson, Pickpocket).

Pickpocket contained hardly any music at all. It had mostly ambient sounds that gave the film a very realistic feel. Due to the sparse dialogue, the film is made up of mostly sounds and actions. Bresson refers to sound as noise and states that the significance of noise is “for the sake of rhythm.” (52).

Bresson “wanted people to feel the atmosphere that surrounds a thief…that makes people anxious and uncomfortable” rather than the story of Pickpocket (Bresson, Bresson (on cinema) ). In every sense, I believe the film achieved this.


Michel (right) trying to pickpocket the man (Left)


Michel’s common place for pickpocketing

Bresson’s cuts and shots in Pickpocket were precise and contained a lot of tension. The train scene is a key scene in the film that supports this statement. The switching hands and fluid panning destroys all the presence of a camera. The close-up hands of the daring thieves, barely pulling the wallet out in a tight train, elevated the tension in the scene. It created a perfectly uncomfortable atmosphere where anything can happen.

“Dismantle and put together until one gets intensity” -Bresson, 55

Bresson has been held with high regard by most filmmakers. Jean-Luc Godard says “Robert Bresson is French cinema”(Wikipedia, Robert Bresson). Furthermore, Bresson is listed as one of the few directors that can genuinely be called an “Auteur” by François Truffaut (Wikipedia, Robert Bresson).

Bresson also influenced many filmmakers. Andrei Tarkovsky is one them, stating that “I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman.” (Wikipedia, Robert Bresson).

Bresson’s book, Notes on the Cinematographer is one of the most respected books in film theory and criticism (Wikipedia, Robert Bresson). Bresson separates the terms ‘Cinema’ and ‘Cinematography’. Cinema is a means of putting theater on a screen while “Cinematography is a writing with images in movement and with sounds.” states Bresson (2).

“Cinematographic film, where the images, like the words in a dictionary, have no power and value except through their position and relation.” – Bresson, 5

Besides this, Bresson has made an impact in Cinema and is part of the French New Wave along with other directors. Although Besson is said to be a theoretical influence to the new wave, he wasn’t particularly like most of the new wave filmmakers in terms of experimentation and his religious views (Wikipedia, Robert Bresson)

Pickpocket lacked many things that are considered vital in a film, but because of this, it brings out a unique way of viewing cinema where the shots give emotion and sounds replaced music. Bresson’s films focuses on the soul of the characters that can only be brought out by looking beyond the actor and paying more attention to the image and sound.

About the author:

Johrah is a Charlie Chaplin fan that takes interest in cute animals, comedy and family themed shows and books.


Pickpocket 1959. [DVD] France: Robert Bresson.

Bresson, R. 1997. Notes on the cinematographer. København: Green Integer.

En.wikipedia.org. 1959. Pickpocket (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickpocket_(film) [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

En.wikipedia.org. 1901. Robert Bresson – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Bresson#About_Robert_Bresson [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

IMDb. 1959. Pickpocket (1959). [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053168 [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

IMDb. 1990. Pickpocket (1959) – Plot Summary. [online] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053168/plotsummary [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

Senses of Cinema. 2002. Robert Bresson. [online] Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/bresson/ [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

Youtube. 2008. Bresson (on Cinema). [online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVODh2lkVdc [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].


One thought on “The hands behind the Pickpocket

  1. Hi Johrah, great work there, enjoy reading it. I think adding a little info about the camera works and use of music would make it more better, like how the music are not really sinc with the movie and why only at the last part of the film, the music comes in sinc for once. The camera works like the whole film itself has no close up shot till the very end where Jeanne visits Michel.

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