In Pickpocket the subject is the anguish, solitude, and discovery of love of a young thief: there are no sociological or psychological dimensions to Bresson's narration, which proceeds via an austere counterpoint between the thief's diary (read on the soundtrack) and brief scenes of his daily routine. The acting of Martin LaSalle, a non-professional, is drained of any expressions of emotions that might particularize his personality, thus providing a clue to what “motivates” the key choices he makes in his life - why he is a pickpocket? why he suddenly decides to accept responsibility for his action? Bresson details out of “glances, hands, objects” a picture of a single human being whose essential mystery remains his secret: one finds little help from traditional film aesthetics in trying to explain how Bresson's minimal art achieves the level of exaltation it does in Pickpocket. Louis Malle, writing for Arts in 1959, felt that: “The appearance of Pickpocket is one of the four or five major events in the history of cinema.” The influence of Pickpocket on him in Le Feu Follet is obvious, as it is on Godard in Le Petit Soldat, and the best of French Cinema in the Sixties.

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