The dilemma of the thief who's good at what he does and is thusly trapped in a dead-end career by a sense of professionalism is a crime fiction trope as old as the hills. It's also one that Robert Bresson seemingly sets out to explore in 1959's Pickpocket, a film (supposedly inspired by Samuel Fuller's noir Pickup on South Street) about a thief who believes he shouldn't be held accountable for doing what he does. Most films would turn this into a cat-and-mouse tale between the brilliant but amoral thief and the equally driven cop. But this is Bresson, he of Diary of a Country Priest and the long-suffering antisocial protagonist, ultimately concerned more with Dostoyevsky than Fuller.

The setup is non-existent, the backstory meaningless, as we are simply presented with the thief, Michel (Martin LaSalle), a gloomy young Parisian with no purpose in life. Even though his mother is slowly dying, he can't bring himself to even visit her, leaving caretaking duties to a kindly neighbor, Jeanne (the striking Marika Green). After the police let Michel go, he continues his minor crimes, lifting wallets in the Metro and thinking it absurd that there are laws which would stop him from doing so. Later, he meets up with a veteran pickpocket (Kassagi, who also served as the film's pickpocketing consultant) who shows him some finer moves and makes Michel part of a slick three-man operation: one distracts the victim, the second lifts the wallet and passes it off to the third.

Continue reading: Pickpocket Review