“Pickpocket” is a rare film (in an epoch that forces art to wear clown‘s red nose and oversized flappers shoes) that is not identical with its plot. The plot in “Pickpocket” is to fool the viewers (in this sense it functions as a work of art-of-pickpocketing) and simultaneously to undermine the plot itself – its omnipresence, its finality, its streamlined nature, its play-game-like quality. So, indeed, what is the meaning of a film if not its semantic independence from the plot? Meaning is its semantic excess over the plot, when the film becomes “smarter” than what’s happening on the level of human actions and feelings pushing the heroes to act and dramatize the audience’s perception. The extra-plot meaning of the “Pickpocket” splits the viewers’ perception – makes them enjoy the scenes of glorious theft by Michel-the master-manipulator of reality, but without becoming completely identical with their own emotional reactions. Bresson found a way to get the viewers react intuitively which is not identical with their habitual – superficial and sentimental perception of movies. The adventures of the main character who becomes a great master of money-making and finally feels disappointed with his own professional mastery and effectiveness and is led to discover humility (and through this – genuine love as alternative way of life) making us the viewers identify with his efforts to self-assert but simultaneously partially “kidnapped” into skeptical observation of Michel’s achievements. We admire Michel in full (they want to be like him) and at the same time have our reservations on assessing his glory – feeling Michel’s own ambiguous feelings about his own successes.

Michel is an existential modernist – his fight for social success relies on his personal ambition and talent allowing him to succeed. But he is also a philosopher – he doesn’t just fight for success but in a process observes and studies himself as a human being, not just development of his “technical” skills. He is different from today’s postmodernist fighters for financial success – they act as robots (follow technical effectiveness soft-wares), while he keeps his humanity – for this reason he could change – to be attracted to an alternative way of life (based on humility and love). Michel is much richer than he is – his soul doesn’t belong to his professional achievements. In his heart he prefers to be poor.

Today there are people (with dehumanized psyches) who think and believe that extra billion dollars around their aorta gives them objective (sanctioned by the logic of God’s Creation) right to manipulate and exploit other people, and when the very existence of dissimilar others contradicts the financial elite’s profit – just to get rid of them – throw them into the gutter of non-existence – what Michel could never do. Of course, the heroes of financial self-enrichment by any price do elimination of others by the trick of outsourcing procedures of such elimination – too many simpleminded young people who borrow idealism and self-sacrificial passion from propaganda will murder and torture for the sake of the swollen by money-profit bellies of financial bosses. Culturally illiterate poor are the real saviors of self-aggrandized wealthy. But Michel (colorfully and intelligently played by Martin La Salle), with all his pickpocket triumphs, belongs to another galaxy. And Inspector (Jean Pelegri) feels it and collaborates with him in the same moments he is trying to undermine his successes. Philosophical duel and moral duo of these two characters make it possible to name them as two angelic creatures inside the human hell, where people “adapt” and consider this surrender a normal life.

Bresson’s film, as if, created by the human angelic potential that knows human nature and innocent proclivities of human soul to corruption, and yet it dedicates to human nature the film. It knows that human hell – purgatory, carries the roads leading out, and “Pickpocket” is a scrupulous research of the very psychological geography of these mysterious liberating paths of human soul.

Bresson’s composition of this shot characterizes our everyday life as a universe of bodily parts, as if human wholeness in every person was ripped apart into the pieces of bodies and shreds of attention to life

Look at the gaze of the man in this shot, as if, he not only doesn’t see the other human beings, but doesn’t feel their presence in proximity to him. That’s how today’s dreamers about billions look at the world – as an abode of opportunities, not as a place where people live. Facial expressions like this make masks from the human faces – transform humanity into its imitation and human life into a dead kingdom of robots.

Posted on Dec 10, 2015 –   Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” (1959) – Civilization Of Technical Competence and Individual Competitive Self-Assertion vs. Rare Dream of Civilization Of Competent Love And Individual Self-Realization by Acting-Out Politics