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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Pickpocket (1959)

Pickpocket (1959)

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Released 6-Apr-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Featurette-Documentary - Pickpocket's Models
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Accent Trailers (8)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1959
Running Time 71:55 (Case: 80)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (68:51) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Robert Bresson
Accent Film Entertainment
Starring Martin LaSalle
Marika Green
Jean Pélégri
Dolly Scal
Pierre Leymarie
Pierre Étaix
César Gattegno
Case Amaray-Opaque-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Jean-Baptiste Lully

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Michel is a pickpocket, not for financial reasons but because he is driven to it. He lives in a tiny garret, estranged from his dying mother. He obtains pleasure from the act of stealing and from the danger it places him in. At a racetrack he is taken in by detectives, but they do not have enough evidence to charge him. When his mother dies Michel falls in with another pickpocket, who teaches him the tricks of the trade and they work together fleecing people at the railway station.

    At the same time, he senses an attraction to Jeanne, the girl who nursed his mother in her final illness. But his own feelings are tied up in his exhilaration at the crimes he commits and the sense of power that it gives him. He is heading for disaster or redemption, or perhaps both.

    The year 1999 saw the death of two filmmakers renowned for working outside the mainstream, and releasing meticulously crafted films at rare intervals. One of course was Stanley Kubrick, the other Robert Bresson. Kubrick's demise was well reported across the world, but Bresson passed with little fanfare, at least outside his native France. He was 98 and had not made a film for 16 years.

    Between his first film as a director in 1934 and his last in 1983 he produced a grand total of 13 features and a short. His early movies featured name actors, but he soon decided that his goals would be achieved using non-actors, and after Diary of a Country Priest in 1951 all of the actors would be non-professionals. He even started referring to them as "interpreters" and later as "models". Some of the actors he used would not be seen again, and some would go on to film careers, most notably Dominique Sanda. He even used a donkey as the leading character in one movie. Bresson's method was to use people who could easily be moulded to give the sort of performance that he demanded and who would not know how to make themselves give a theatrical style of performance on screen. The acting styles in a Bresson film are quite unlike those in the movies of any other director. There is little inflection to the voices, characters often have no expression on their faces and look down a lot. The intention of all this seems to have been to force the audience to impose their own feelings and reactions on the characters, to stir their imagination in the same way that a reader responds to a novel. The film is stripped of almost all non-subjective material - if something is not seen or experienced by Michel, then it is not shown to the audience.

    Pickpocket is generally acknowledged as Bresson's masterpiece. The sensuality of the pickpocket's chosen career is palpable, while much of the narrative (which bears a strong similarity to Crime and Punishment) is driven through visual and auditory cues. The latter often occur off screen, such as footsteps approaching the pickpocket's garret. Ironically, the latter has no lock. The film is not as austere and cynical as his films are often characterised, with an ending that is remarkably upbeat for Bresson, and which was borrowed for Paul Schrader's American Gigolo.

    Given the artificial nature of the performances it is a credit to the director's cinematic sense that this film is so compelling. One of the great films of the French cinema of the 1950s (not its best decade) this is a genuine classic, and it is remarkable that it has had a DVD release in Australia. I have managed to see ten of Bresson's thirteen features, but eight of these have been in a cinema - I believe none of his films saw the light of day on VHS in this country. Again, Áccent Entertainment proves that it is in the vanguard of DVD distributors in Australia, releasing classic films in quality editions.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in a full-frame format of 1.33:1, close to the original 1.37:1, and of course is not 16x9 enhanced.

    This transfer emanates from the French Region 2 release by Mk2. It has been taken from print material in very good condition, very sharp and clear. The transfer is bright and has good contrast. There is a good range of greys, but black levels are slightly lacking in richness.

    There is some mild aliasing at times, but so infrequently so as not be distracting. Film artefacts are almost non-existent. At times there seems to be some slight emulsion damage, with very faint white splotches making some of the darker portions of the screen image flicker slightly. Otherwise this is a fine transfer.

    Optional English subtitles are provided. These are in clear white font and all of the dialogue seems to be translated.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer change placed at 68:51 during a fade to black. It is not disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    A fine audio transfer in Dolby Digital 2.0. While the audio is resolutely mono, there is surround encoding. The surround encoding merely positions the audio in the centre channel, with no surround information and little if anything coming from the main channels, even when music is playing.

    Dialogue is clear and audible throughout, both the actual dialogue spoken by the characters on screen and the narration. The mono audio is clean, without distortion or significant hiss, though the latter is audible.

    Bresson was fond of using Baroque music in his films, and this one has music by Jean-Baptiste Lully from his opera Atys. It is used sparingly, for the credits and in parts of the film as punctuation, more as a narrative tool suggesting internal emotional action than as filler. It is no more than adequately recorded but very effectively used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Menu Animation & Audio

    The menu is animated with vision of the lead actor and has some of Lully's music.

Featurette-Documentary - Pickpocket's Models (52:13)

    The title refers to the actors in the film. The three leads are still living, and this documentary by Babette Mangolte seeks them out. Pierre Leymarie, who played Michel's friend Jacques, never appeared in another film, and is now a professor running a chemical laboratory. Marika Green, who plays Jeanne, still looks only about 45 (she would be in her early sixties) and became an actress. Martin La Salle, the pickpocket of the title, went to America after the film and enrolled in The Actors' Studio. He now lives in Mexico City where Mangolte visited him and has had a long career in the films of that country.

    This is a very good documentary which gives some insights into the way that Bresson handled his actors, his motives for doing so, and most intriguingly the effect that working with him had on their lives. It is presented in 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, but the video quality is not the best, with what look like NTSC to PAL transfer artefacts at times.

Trailer (1:56)

    This is actually just a trailer for the Áccent release, not an original trailer shown in theatres. It tantalisingly mentions that they will be releasing five Bresson films, though the only one that has been announced is Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (which I am very much looking forward to, not having seen it).


    An eight-page fold-out booklet with photos and an informative three-page essay by Adrian Martin.

Trailer-Accent Trailers (17:01)

    Trailers for M, Persona, Fallen Angels, Criminal Lovers, A Heart in Winter, La Belle Noiseuse, Fanny and Alexander and The Short Films of François Ozon.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film has been released on DVD in France by Mk2, but this Region 2 version is in a three-disc set containing Procès de Jeanne d'Arc and L'Argent, his final film. This set has English subtitles and contains a few extras. The Pickpocket disc has the same documentary as the Region 4, plus a short French TV clip and a two-minute speech by Bresson at a French film school. None of the films in this set are available separately.

    The film is getting an April release in the UK as a single disc, but no reviews are available as yet.


    A classic film by a unique filmmaker.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is very good.

    One substantial extra being a documentary.

There is an Official Distributor Comment available for this review.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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