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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Pickpocket: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Pickpocket: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // July 15, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted August 1, 2014 | E-mail the Author

Everyone's done plenty of stupid things despite the fear of being caught, but Michel (Martin LaSalle) just happens to do such things for a living. He's a pickpocket by trade; first by himself, then---after his arrest and subsequent release, due to lack of evidence---with a pair of highly skilled thieves (Henri Kassagi and Pierre Etaix). Aside from the thrill of his dangerous profession, Michel has very little going on in his life: he lives in a run-down apartment, he's got no legal ambitions and he barely acknowledges his dying mother who lives nearby. He simply drifts through life as a shell of a person...much like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, a film whose writer (Paul Schrader) was highly influenced by this one.

Despite Michel's unlikable personality, he carries the weight of Robert Bresson's Pickpocket (1959) quite nicely. Bresson habitually used non-professional actors and stripped away the emotionally-driven "performances" we've become used to seeing in movies; it's a strategy that fits perfectly with Michel's blank, lifeless stares at everyone from accomplices to accusers and even Jeanne (Marika Green), the pretty young woman who takes care of his mother (Dolly Scal). Yet Pickpocket is anything but your traditional "will-they-or-won't-they" romantic melodrama, even though Michel and Marika rarely cross paths at the same level yet seem destined to eventually come together. We get more of an examination of sickness through self-absorption (not uncommon for a man in his mid-twenties) and the struggle to finally start thinking of other people. But it's not surprising that someone so unconcerned with the feelings of others would resort to theft; after all, it's easy to steal from those you don't really know. More than anything, it's the only excitement in his life.

Pickpocket was Robert Bresson's fifth feature-length film and the first he also wrote. This brief but dense 76-minute production includes his other signature elements aside from "non-performances": themes of alienation and redemption, extensive voice-over narration (sometimes doubled and even tripled with on-screen action and written text) and, perhaps most interestingly, a clever sound design. Bresson's careful use of isolated sounds gives certain scenes an intriguing atmosphere, whether through the crisp shuffle of leather shoes on a cobblestone street or the specific actions of a background character. Much like Pickpocket's carefully framed visuals (which, interestingly enough, avoid the use of close-ups), these sounds are important to the story and, thankfully enough, both are clearer than ever on Blu-ray.

Criterion's original 2005 DVD offered a good deal of support for Pickpocket, including an audio commentary, a vintage interview with Bresson, a cast reunion of sorts, and more. The studio's brand new Dual-Format Edition (which will likely be released as a single Blu-ray soon enough) adds nothing new to the bonus features, although at least the A/V presentation gets an expected boost in quality. Though I'd imagine that die-hard fans and interested newcomers alike will want to seek this version out, slightly less enthusiastic viewers can probably hold onto their DVDs for a while.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Not surprisingly, Pickpocket's black-and-white imagery is rendered nicely on this crisp, dependable 1080p transfer (which, incidentally, was sourced from a relatively new remaster of the film). Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the striking visuals retain excellent detail with strong textures, a healthy amount of film grain and deep black levels. A handful of scene transitions don't blend seamlessly...but this is undoubtedly more of a source material issue than a fault with the restoration or digital transfer, so Pickpocket has always looked this way. Simply put, it's head and shoulders above Criterion's own 2005 DVD and, if nothing else, will satisfy long-time fans and impress newcomers.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

The French LPCM 1.0 mono track is perfectly acceptable overall, as is accentuates Pickpocket's unique sound design even more than the DVD. Dialogue is almost always clear and easy to understand, while specific amplified background sounds (footsteps, vehicles, etc.) are balanced nicely without fighting for attention. Optional English subtitles have been offered during the main feature and all applicable supplements, but they provide dialogue translation only.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As usual, Criterion's menu interface is smooth and easy to navigate on both formats. This two-disc set is locked for Region A/1 players only; it's packaged in the studio's trademark "stocky" keepcase with overlapping hubs and attractive two-sided artwork. The booklet features a reprinted essay written by filmmaker-and-totally-not-a-city Gary Indiana.

Bonus Features

Exactly the same as Criterion's 2005 DVD, which seems a little lazy considering the nine-year gap and this release's price point...but what's here is still pretty good stuff. Just for the record, these recycled bonus features include an Introduction by Paul Schrader (14 minutes, with a spoiler warning), an Audio Commentary with James Quandt, an enjoyable 2003 cast reunion / documentary "The Models of Pickpocket" (53 minutes), a 2000 post-screening Q&A Session (13 minutes), a vintage excerpt from French TV program Cinepanorama (7 minutes) featuring Robert Bresson, an entertaining 1962 TV segment from La piste aux etoiles (12 minutes) featuring actor/entertainer Henri Kassagi, and the film's Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes). Optional English subtitles have been included for translation purposes only.

Final Thoughts

Robert Bresson's Pickpocket remains accessible and entertaining more than five decades later, especially considering the way it deliberately attempts to keep viewers off-balance. Most of the non-actor performances are quite strong under the circumstances, while Bresson's careful compositions and unique sound design give Pickpocket an unconventional but captivating atmosphere. Criterion's Dual-Format edition serves up a strong A/V presentation and the exact same set of supplements from their own 2005 DVD. It's a well-rounded and solid package and absolutely worth picking up if you never got around to buying this film on DVD...but if you did, I wouldn't blame you for holding off. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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