On Bresson’s Pickpocket: Through the Dark Ages Brightly

17Nov08

In which The Gay Recluse watches French film.

In Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, the young (and kinda hot, in an aloof, cerebral way) lead is given to wandering the streets of Paris, looking into the eyes of men with whom he has the briefest and most exhilarating (but ultimately soulless) encounters. Surprise: at least superficially, this movie is not about gay sex! Released in 1959, during the dark ages of post-war western civilization, the film deftly — and we mean this in the most literal sense, given the amazing choreography of wallets being lifted from the marks in question — presents a society of underground pickpockets to serve as a metaphor for the gay underground with which Bresson was obviously on very familiar terms. Even the ending, where the lead is supposedly redeemed through his love of a woman, makes much more sense when viewed through a gay lens, and here’s your first clue: the guy’s now in jail, and thus separated from his “love” by a literal set of bars! (Ha, this is like the long-distance relationship ploy used to such great effect by so many modern closet-cases, who will only confess their love to a woman when she’s in another city.)

While we were initially tempted to dismiss the work as the dated and agonized confession of a tortured soul (i.e., Bresson), the fim ultimately moved and — like his other work that we’ve seen — haunted us for many hours after it was done. The reason for this, we have come to realize, is that while Bresson in no way was prepared (or permitted) to literally deal with the question of homosexuality, his exploration through means of the pickpocket metaphor likewise released him from the burden of stereotype, so that the film ultimately resonates with a degree of truth and candor lacking in 98 percent of movies made today.

As with our dreams, Bresson speaks to us only in symbols and metaphors, and like the characters in his film, we find ourselves gripped by longing to understand not only his intentions, but our own, as if by doing so, we will be given clues to our larger fate.

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4 Responses to “On Bresson’s Pickpocket: Through the Dark Ages Brightly”

  1. 1 Yvonne Connasse

    Bresson is in a class by himself. One of the true “originals” in film, and an endless source of inspiration, curiosity, frustration and blind adoration on my part. His “Diary of a Country Priest” is one of the most intelligent and spiritual works of art I have ever seen. And nobody, before or since has used “non-actors” to greater effect. Okay, I’m done. Just had to share.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Yvonne — “Diary of a Country Priest” is literally sitting on the television, next in line!

  3. So, what’s the story? WAS Bresson gay? Is there anybody still left out there in le Belle France who knows and will go on record? Does it matter? I suppose it surely does, if only to add to the canon of who was/who wasn’t, gay rights, and the understanding of the whloe damn thing (life, sex, attraction. molecular biology… or something). Will someone who knows about Bresson please check in?

  4. Thanks for the comment/question, James van M! Whatever Bresson was doing offscreen, his films are extremely gay, which I would be hard pressed to think is an accident.


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