Slavic/REEES Grad Film Series: The Pickpocket

Monday, October 21, 2019 -
6:30pm to 9:00pm
144 Louis A. Simpson Building
Monday, October 21, 2019 -
6:30pm to 9:00pm

The Pickpocket
Directed by: Robert Bresson (1959)
October 21 | 6:30 p.m. | 144 Louis A. Simpson

The word ‘adaptation’ does not fully capture the complicated relationship between Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866); critics have called this French minimalist film a ‘refraction,’ ‘paraphrase,’ ‘allusion,’ and ‘travesty’ of the novel. (Hasty, 67) Indeed, at first glance, the petty thievery of Michel (Martin LaSalle) does not compare to the ax murder of Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov and Michel’s crimes, however, are driven by the same theory: an exceptional person has the right to overpass the boundaries of conventional morality. Undeterred by the suspicions of the police inspector (Jean Pélégri), the fatal illness of his mother, or the devoted love of his friend Jeanne (Marika Green), Michel spends his days picking the pockets of strangers. Crime for him becomes an obsession and his internal monologues, justifications of his actions, become increasingly solipsistic.

Bresson intentionally distances his film from Dostoevsky’s novel. In an interview, he says: “I would like the source of my films to be in me, apart from literature. Even if I make a film from Dostoevsky, I try always to take out all the literary parts. I try to go directly to the sentiments of the author and only what can pass through me. I don’t want to make a film showing the works of Dostoevsky.” (Bresson, quoted in Hasty, 66) Thus, rather than an adaptation, PickPocket can be interpreted as a free translation of Dostoevsky’s key literary ideas into a uniquely cinematic language.

Works Cited

Hasty, Olga Peters. “On Not Showing Dostoevskii’s Work: Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket.” Border Crossing: Russian Literature into Film. Edited by Alexander Burry and Frederick H. White. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.

Next screening: Crime and Punishment (dir. Aki Kaurismäki) – November 4, 6:30 PM, 301 Julius Romo Rabinowitz

Contact Carole Dopp with any questions.