Robert Bresson’s sensibility — famous for its combination of austerity and ardor, its interpenetration of the worldly with the divine — aligns with and departs from Dostoevsky’s in fascinating ways, so it’s hardly surprising that his free-reimagining of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT engages as deeply as it enchants. This is a work of “pure” cinema, boldly original and as striking as ever in its treatment of space and light, figure and field, but it is also a quietly serious, deeply felt moral investigation.
PICKPOCKET’s Michel (Martin LaSalle) is no Raskolnikov, not really — his rationale for thieving contains a component nowhere to be found in the latter’s fevered philosophy of justified random killing: the component of personal gain. Bresson’s career-spanning interest in the personal and social costs of the spell cast by money (cf. LES DAMES DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE (1945) and L’ARGENT (1983)) — trumps his examination of the Nietzschean will-to-power here. Michel does pay lip service to the idea of moral exceptionalism for the exceptional among us, but the long, lovingly-shot passages of thievery, which document Michel and his associates as they pull off one artful five-finger job after another, play out almost like ballet, and they visually contemplate a very different idea: that these men possess a skill they’ve worked hard to perfect, and diligently practice a trade in order to support themselves. Bresson’s characteristic coolness isn’t designed to elicit our passionate sympathy for these men — and it doesn’t — but it does place their compulsions on something like an equal footing with those that mark the lives of more conventional, law-abiding men.
The real crime in PICKPOCKET brings us back around to CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Both stories concern men whose obsessions are overcome — hell, whose souls may even be saved — by a transforming human relationship. At stake for Dostoevsky is eternal salvation and reunion with God; for Bresson, it may be enough to rejoin humanity by falling in love.
PICKPOCKET (1959) DIR. ROBERT BRESSON
6/11 – 7:30pm & 9:15pm
Part of the What is Cinema? series ending tomorrow, 6/12.
40 Brattle St.
Cambridge MA 02138