Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Deeper Into Movies 7

Pickpocket - Robert Bresson

My first Bresson film, which is frankly a little embarrassing.

First remark - this isn’t a completely anti-psychological film. At the very beginning, Michel does seem to be getting some sort of sexual release when he opens the woman’s purse and removes her money. Similarly, the remarks he makes to Jeanne about his alcoholic father and disinterested mother get uncomfortably close to a banal sociology of the “anti-social personality” that Bresson goes out of his way, in the opening statement, to avoid. But, as with the sexually compulsiveness suggested at the beginning, this is some pretty attenuated characterization. Michel, Jacques, Jeanne and the police chief/Grand Inquisitor all speculate as to his motives, but it is as thought we the audience were only getting a mere fraction of the conversation. For example, Michel’s self-imposed isolation from the world on which both Jacques and Jeanne remark is never really explained. It is treated as a donnĂ©e, just something Michel does to the perplexity of his friends. In fact, there is a decided famine of motivation in general - a couple of pseudo-causes as to Michel’s kleptomania, if that’s what it is - but nothing to explain the relentlessness of his decision to take on the role of criminal.

Second remark - obviously, Michel is a Raskolnikov in palimpsest, but the difference between the luridness of Dostoevsky’s novel and Bresson’s film is worth noting. The pleasure of Dostoevsky in general is this luridness, of too-muchedness: pedophiles and prostitutes and bone-crunching poverty collaged with lengthy disquisitions on God, morality and politics. While he may be a little too worthy, its hard not to see Doestoevsky as a kind of pulp-modernist in the way that Lovecraft and P.K. Dick are.

Bresson, on the other hand, seems to operate in a more unstable terrain. Michel does not finally confess in order for resurrection to occur. The love affair, if that’s what it is, between Michel and Jeanne seems to be little more than a narrative device with little to do other than provide a means by which the film can continue. In this sense, it is little different from the vaudeville routines that Vladimir and Estragon use to pass the time in Waiting for Godot. The action is not where the action is in this case. Which leads us to…

Third remark - purely at the level of sheer visual pleasure, the ballet of hands, arms, wallets, pockets, newspapers and overcoats was astonishing. This is where the interest lies, and why it is easy to appreciate the enthusiasm that a Godard or a Truffaut would have had for Bresson. Pure cinema, without extraneous content. Its concepts visible in movement and time.

I have a feeling I have a new hobby-horse.