Writing about the films of Robert Bresson usually begins by informing reader that his films must be discussed through a trance of hushed tones and quiet veneration. There is no room for rushed judgement or quick-witted observations; Bresson makes Serious Art, as opposed to Hollywood directors who do not. There are the key phrases to use — what B. Kite calls part of The Critical Dictionary of Received Ideas (“ascetic, austere, severe, demanding, slow, transcendent, Jansenist, minimalist”) — though how these relate to what’s on screen is often left unexplored. Most importantly, one must fully concede themselves to the films, giving into the Power of the Holy Spirit instead of analyzing or critically exploring them, and especially not simply enjoying them.
So in revisiting Pickpocket, now out through Criterion Blu-Ray, I found it more interesting as a genre picture than reverently accepting it in the category of Transcendental Style In Film. There is much to consider when examining Bresson’s form, but I find it has less in common with the contemporary art house that has adapted his influential techniques (often just “model”acting) and more similarities with the Pre-Code films at Warner Brothers. This is not just because Pickpocket is, in some ways, a gangster film, but because the way Bresson tells his stories visually — through glances, visual details, and, most essentially, editing — is less an ascetic tendency than one of economy, the same kind we recognize in Mervyn LeRoy or Allan Dwan.