Pickpocket – The Criterion Collection #314 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
July 31, 2014 by Dennis Amith
Robert Bresson’s wonderful film “Pickpocket” has entertained cineaste for generations and now that it is released on HD, will no doubt entertain another generation of cineaste who will discover his work but also the fantastic cinema he had created throughout his career. After 50-years later, “Pickpocket” is still a wonderful film, and for today’s cineaste, a film worth owning.
Image courtesy of © 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Pickpocket – The Criterion Collection #314
YEAR OF FILM: 1959
DURATION: 76 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Monaural French with English Subtitles
COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: July 15, 2014
Written and Directed by Robert Bresson
Produced by Agnes Delahaie
Cinematography by Leonce-Henrie Burel
Edited by Raymond Lamy
Production Design by Pierre Charbonnier
Martin LaSalle as Michel
Marika Green as Jeanne
Jean Pelegri as L’inspecteur Principal
Dolly Scal as La mere
Pierre Leymarie as Jacques
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.
One of the French filmmakers before the French New Wave that has been placed on the list with distinguished auteurs such as Jean Renoir for creating fantastic films but yet choosing a different path among his colleagues by pursuing what filmmaker Francois Truffaut has wrote “the ultimately real character”.
While best known as one of the founders of the French New Wave alongside Andre Bazin and Alexandre Astruc, his films such as “Journal d’un cure de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest), “Un condamne a mort s’est echappe ou Le vent souffle ou il veut (A Man Escaped)”, “Proces de Jeanne d’Arc (The Trial of Joan of Arc)”, “Mouchette” and considered as one of his greatest achievements, “Au hasard Balthazar”.
A man which Jean-Luc Godard has written “Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German Music”, one of his well-known films and many consider a masterpiece in his oeuvre is his 1959 film “Pickpocket”.
Inspiring filmmakers such as Paul Shrader, who has said his writing for “Taxi Driver” was inspired by “Pickpocket” and for well-known writer, filmmaker and film critic Susan Sontag who had “Pickpocket” listed at #1 in her top 50 films, many cineaste will remember “Pickpocket” for its camerawork and showcasing the life of the pickpocket thief in glorious detail.
Released by The Criterion Collection on DVD back in 2003, “Pickpocket” has now been released on Blu-ray + DVD combo in 2014.
The film revolves around a man named Michel (portrayed by Martin LaSalle), stealing from an unsuspecting individual at the horse races and thinking he has gotten away with the crime, is arrested and questioned by Chief Inspector (portrayed by Jean Pelegri).
While Michel is released for insufficient evidence, his interested in pickpocketing leads him to join an organized group of thieves who teach him the art of thievery in crowded areas and Michel becomes a professional.
Michel goes back home to visit his mother and he meets the beautiful Jeanne (portrayed by Marika Greene). While Jeanne is dating Michel’s good friend Jacques (portrayed by Pierre Leymarie), Michel continues his thieving ways but yet, the Chief Inspector suspects him for stealing a lot of money but will Mcihel continue to outwit the police or will he end up being caught?
“Pickpocket” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). Featuring a 2K digital restoration, having owned the previous Criterion Collection DVD, the detail of the Blu-ray release is quite evident as white and grays are well-contrast and images look sharper with more detail.
I didn’t notice any blurring or problematic issues with the picture quality as the film looks better than it has ever looked on video and fans of the film will be pleased with the amazing look of the film on Blu-ray and the upgrade to HD is well worth it!
According to the Criterion Collection, “This high-definition digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative at Digimage in Paris, where the film was also restored.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for audio, “Pickpocket” is presented in French Monaural LPCM 1.0 with English subtitles. Dialogue is clear and understandable. While the orchestral baroque music sounds great and didn’t notice any crackling or hiss during my viewing of the film.
According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original negative and the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using iZotope RX3.
“Pickpocket – The Criterion Collection #314” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring the original 2005 audio commentary by James Quandt, senior programmer at TIFF Cinematheque and editor Robert Bresson.
- Paul Schrader Introduction – (14:48) An introduction by writer-director Paul Schrader.
- The Models of “Pickpocket” – (52:15) Filmmaker Babette Mangolte tracked down three of the actors from Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” for this 2003 documentary.
- Cinemapanorama – (6:28) From a 1960 episode of the French TV program “Cinepanorama”, director Robert Bresson answers questions about “Pickpocket” from interviewers France Roche and Francois Chalais.
- Q&A On Pickpocket – (12:56) From a 2000 screening of Pickpocket at the Reflet Medicis cinema in Paris with actress Marika Green and filmmakers Paul Vecchiali and Jean-Pierre Ameris.
- Kassagi – (11:32) Kassagi shows off his skills of pickpocketing on the show “La piste aux etoiles” (1962).
- Trailer – (2:32) The theatrical trailer for “Pickpocket”.
“Pickpocket – The Criterion Collection #314” comes with a quad fold featuring the essay “Robert Bresson: Hidden in Plain Sight” by Gary Indiana.
The Blu-ray version comes with both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film and special features.
One of the amazing things about Robert Bresson’s work is his pursuit of making a character seem real for the viewer but it’s a realness captured by great cinematography, closeups and not following the standard of traditional filmmaking in the pursuit of realism.
Even Francois Truffaut has had difficult writing about Bresson especially for his earlier works commenting on Bresson’s use of non-actors and those who have no knowledge of the theater and thus capturing the life of a real person.
Truffaut has written about Bresson, “If all Bresson did was kill the life and the actor that’s inside every person in order to bring before his camera individuals who recite deliberately neutral words, his work would be an interesting experiment.”
Truffaut continued, “But he goes further. With amateur interpreters who know nothing about theater, he creates the ultimately real character, whose every gesture, look, attitude, reaction and word – not one of which is louder than the other – is essential. The whole takes on a form that makes the film.”
When you watch Bresson’s 1959 film, “Pickpocket” is well-crafted for how the film is not about police capturing a thief, it’s a film about a thief who has reasons for doing what he is doing for what he believes is right.
The camera captures the amazing process of organized pickpocketing and scenes that have remained strong and fascinating to this very day, but it’s the film that doesn’t follow other films about thieves that somehow relinquishes in banality of the thief who goes down for his crimes, but more of a man who steals but yet is able to find redemption because of his thieving ways.
It’s a film unlike any film that had been created and to this day, there is nothing like it.
Martin LaSalle does a fantastic job of playing the charismatic thief, while Marika Green is no doubt an actress that would go on to bigger films, especially in 1974 for the film “Emmanuelle”.
The release of “Pickpocket” on Blu-ray is definitely amazing for the Bresson fan as watching the clarity of the film on Blu-ray compared to the original DVD is noticeable, while watching the film again in HD is fantastic. As the original DVD, you get the same wonderful featurettes that were included such as the audio commentary by film scholar James Quandt, the 2003 documentary “The Models of ‘Pickpocket'” by Babette Mangolte, the Q&A from 2000 which features actress Marika Green and one of my favorite featurettes, the sleight-of-hand artist and “Pickpockt” consultant, Kassagi as he thrills the crowd by showing the audience of how easy it was for him to steal from audience members.
But while “Pickpocket” is a great film, I do hope that it leads people to check out one of my favorite Bresson films, “Au hasard Balthasar”, which to me is the greatest Robert Bresson film.
Overall, Robert Bresson’s wonderful film “Pickpocket” has entertained cineaste for generations and now that it is released on HD, will no doubt entertain another generation of cineaste who will discover his work but also the fantastic cinema he had created throughout his career. After 50-years later, “Pickpocket” is still a wonderful film, and for today’s cineaste, a film worth owning.
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