A petty thief lifts a stranger's wallet, only to find a photograph of the thief's wife inside. That, my friends, is a brilliant set-up, a near-perfect hook for what must surely be a gripping psychological thriller, or perhaps a dark character study.
Alas, it is instead the premise for "Pickpocket," a drab, meandering snore directed by and starring Sri Lankan filmmaker Linton Semage. The film runs a mere 77 minutes, yet it seems at least three times that, as Semage mistakes overlong and go-nowhere with wise and contemplative. There are movies in which even when nothing happens, something's happening; this is not one of those movies.
The plot begins as mentioned above: a thief, sorting through a stolen wallet, stumbles upon his wife's portrait. His reaction? To stare, and stare, and stare some more, sometimes at the picture, other times off into nowhere, and back again, and so on. The man does not tell his wife of his discovery, instead opting to stare even more at home, occasionally livening things up by slamming his dinner down on the table before leaving to go stare somewhere else for a while. Eventually he tracks down the owner of the wallet, a gentleman who runs a portrait studio. The thief visits the man's house - he is not there, so maybe the thief can stare for a little while before running off downtown for further staring. Every now and then, he would promise somebody he would stop stealing, maybe get a good job. And then again with the staring.
His wife, meanwhile, is eight months pregnant, and worries that living in a shack on the edge of town with a petty thief is perhaps not the best situation for a child. And so she stares, too, unless a neighbor is around to whom she can complain about being married to a jobless crook. Every so often, she grumbles about wanting to move back in with her mother. Sometimes a crazy old pinwheel salesman stops by to chat about pinwheels. There are a lot of pinwheels in this movie.
And with that, you have the entire movie, give or take a long stare or two. Semage understands the language of cinema, make no doubt - there are times his film, which is about ninety percent dialogue-free, approaches what could be considered moments of interest, perhaps even beauty. He is a filmmaker with a solid eye for visuals. Unfortunately, that eye strays too often, lingering on uninteresting characters and their lifeless situations. Any attempts at commentary on class struggles or the like get lost in the haze of tiresome shots of characters doing nothing. Everything moves at half pace (except, of course, the pinwheels), but nothing here is thoughtful, despite appearances to the contrary. As a movie, it does a whole lot of gazing off into space, but it's not thinking about anything worth sharing.
Video & Audio
Pathfinder Home Entertainment presents "Pickpocket" in a 1.33:1 full screen format, which appears to be the film's original aspect ratio. The picture is dark and muddy, and watch out for one scene that contains a good amount of major print damage, with giant green splotches running up the screen.
Worse off is the audio, presented here in the original Sinhalese (with burned-in, non-optional English subtitles). The soundtrack sounds bad on its own - it appears much, if not all, of the track was created in post-production, with off-sounding sound effects making things sound near-comical (the splash of water in a wash basin sounds like waves crashing against a shore). But on the disc, it's far too loud (if an ordinary soundtrack plays fine at, say, "10" on your system, this one has to be turned down to a "3" or "4" to be manageable). On one of my systems (which is more sensitive to such problems), the soundtrack would play back out of sync, a good two to three seconds after the video; however, the problem did not occur on my other players. Take that as you will.
"An Interview with Lenton Semage" (16:04) finds the director answering questions posed by "film critic/actor" Luke Y. Thompson. The interview's far more interesting than the movie itself, with Semage giving a quick history of Sri Lanka cinema and Semage's own career. Presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen.
A production stills gallery, a short text biography for Semage, a full frame "Pickpocket" trailer, and a collection of previews for other Pathfinder releases round out the set.
The movie's a snooze and the disc's unimpressive. Skip It.