Robert Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket


Robert Bresson’s 1959 film Pickpocket is superior to Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame, but to be inferior to Pickpocket is hardly an embarrassment. Both films explore willfully isolate protagonists who immerse themselves in addictive pleasures to escape vulnerability. In Pickpocket, Michel (Martin LaSalle) pickpockets, and in Shame, Brandon (Michael Fassbender) orgasms. But while Brandon seems painfully aware throughout Shame of his compulsion and its destructive qualities, Michel entertains a half-hearted philosophy in which breaking the law may be an artform, and he becomes aware of his dire situation only in Pickpocket’s final breathtaking moments. It would be reductive to say that one approach to the subject of compulsion is inherently preferable to the other, but perhaps illuminating to explore the ways in which these separate approaches foster distinct attitudes toward cinema.