Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Pickpocket (1959)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Pickpocket (1959, Fr.)

In writer/director Robert Bresson's influential and well-crafted crime drama, reportedly inspired by Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment, about a tall and dark, obsessed, and emotionally-empty pickpocket whose life was ruined by his compulsion to steal:

  • the film's opening title from the director: "The style of this film is not that of a thriller. Using image and sound, the filmmaker strives to express the nightmare of a young man whose weaknesses lead him to commit acts of theft for which nothing destined him. However, this adventure, and the strange paths it takes, brings together two souls that may otherwise never have met"
  • in the thrilling opening scene, a disembodied hand (with voice-over narration) was hand-writing the words of a letter, in French (translated), as he confessed: "I know those who've done these things usually keep quiet, and those who talk haven't done them. Yet I have done them"
  • the revealing letter continued, as the protagonist -- a disaffected, amoral petty Parisian thief named Michel (Martin LaSalle), who was still narrating, spoke about his next fateful crime at a horserace track; after watching who had cash at the betting window, he snuck up behind two money-laden targets watching the race and carefully began to unlatch a woman's purse before a brazen pickpocket attempt: "I had made my decision some days before, but would I have the nerve? I should have left. I was walking on air, with the world at my feet. A minute later I was caught" - after the successful purloining of a wad of cash from her purse, he confidently left the grounds' outer gates, but he was immediately apprehended by two undercover police for the crime, and driven in the backseat of a car to a police station; however, without evidence to arrest him, he was released
The Racetrack Theft
  • the great tautly-choreographed set-piece of a group of coordinated thefts, beginning at the ticket counter of the Gare de Lyon, where a line of pickpocket thieves targeted a well-dressed woman with a purse, who after she purchased her train ticket was tricked into putting a newspaper under her arm instead of her handbag; the assembly line of robbers passed her bag back to the end of the string of accomplices, where the last man emptied the purse of cash and deposited the bag in a trash container; the next victim was a man who was relieved of bills that were dangling from his wallet, and another man was deftly robbed of his inner coat pocket wallet; once on the train in the narrow corridor, the string of thieves continued to delicately and dexterously pilfer wallets and money from more unsuspecting passengers - they were even able to replace an emptied wallet back into the inner coat pocket of the victim
  • his long-term, on-and-off again romantic relationship with devoted ingenue neighbor Jeanne (Marika Green), who sought to redeem him - in the film's conclusion, after he was humbled and jailed, she visited him (a long-awaited visit) and kissed his hand through the bars; he told her - the film's final hopeful line: "Oh, Jeanne, to reach you at last, what a strange path I had to take"

Handwritten Letter

The Set-Piece of Coordinated Thefts

Jail Visit from Jeanne


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