Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Pickpocket”

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“My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, place in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.”
— Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer

The 1959 film directed by Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, is a mosaic of human complexity as much as it is a defiance of morality through a character that is uncertain of life. The film is incredibly literary in its executions — being heavily inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment —with a director puppeteering his actors to escape his opinion of superficiality and including a main character that narrates throughout. Relating to my previous post on the auteur theory, Bresson was one of the directors that these theorists actually admired. He has a distinct presentation of his philosophy in his films, making him a quintessential image of an auteur. Pickpocket is no exception.

The Bressonian style emerges with its presentation of  lifestyle, specifically one of a person who identifies with the profession of a pickpocket. The image of this specific pickpocket is what Bresson and his cinematographer, Léonce-Henri Burel, present through exceptional camerawork, which consists of tightly framed close-ups that make the viewer pay witness to these crimes. The camera also places no negative opinion on these crimes, being indifferent to these sequences and allowing the audience to create a positive or negative judgement.

*Spoilers ahead*

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Auteur Spotlight and Theory Explanation

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This week on “Christian’s Cinematic Syntax,” a new addition to my film journal has emerged through my reflection upon cinematic theory. I have always been interested in theories of cinema and the many aspects that have shaped its history. Consequently, I want to highlight a theory as a way to inform and apply it, within the parameters it created. I want to allow my readers to learn about a piece of cinema history, and appreciate a famed director, Michelangelo Antonioni, through the lens of an auteur theorist. Without further delay, let us explore the nature of the auteur theory.

“That is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of camera-stylo (camera-pen).” — Alexandre Astruc  

Background on the theory: The auteur theory is a French film theory in which the director is considered the author (auteur) of their film. Since the theory states that the main authorship of a film is given solely to the director, we see that the theory developed cinema, calling it a reflection of an artist’s vision. The auteur theory differs from others, such as the formalist theory, because of the importance it places on a single creator. The originators of this theory are André Bazin and Roger Leenhardt, who, in the 1940s, founded a film magazine called Cahiers du Cinema, which was vocal about the director’s importance in cinema.

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