Favorite Films: Pickpocket (1959)

A Still from Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket

A Still from Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket with Martin LaSalle

One film I will never tire of watching is Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959). At a time when the French New Wave was in full flower, it was a resolutely old-fashioned film that was—in my opinion—better than any of the New Wave films. It starred two unknowns, the Uruguayan Martin LaSalle and Marika Green, and shows how a young man (who looks startlingly like a young Henry Fonda) falls in with a pickpocketing gang, and with a young woman who loves him.

Bresson only made a handful of films, but fully half of them are among the greatest films ever made. As I say this, I have to interject that you may or may not think as highly of him as I do: His films may seem preternaturally slow, but there is an unmistakeable development of character that seems missing altogether in the films of today. Pickpocket’s Michel and Jeanne are deeply, even tragically, in love with each other, in a world where crime seems to be the only way to get ahead.

If you are interested in seeing some of Bresson’s films, I highly recommend the following titles:

  • Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
  • A Man Escaped (1956)
  • The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), based on the original trial records
  • Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
  • Mouchette (1967)
  • Lancelot of the Lake (1974)

Bresson died in 1999, but his films will never die.