Close Up

4 June 2017: Take Two: Pickpocket / Vivre sa Vie


"I would surely like to be moved now as much as I had been moved by Pickpocket. One thought: ah, such a thing can be done!" – Jean-Luc Godard

“In his top-10 list for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1959, Godard cited Pickpocket – filmed on the streets of Paris at the same time he shot Breathless – as the best film of the year. Despite Bresson’s spiritual cinema being theologically opposed to Godard’s secular beliefs, his influence on Godard was profound and enduring, asking similarly deep and spiritually probing questions about politics and society. Although Godard is quoted as stating Pickpocket was the main inspiration for Le Petit Soldat (1960), Bresson’s influence is perhaps best observed in Vivre sa vie (1962). Godard’s tragic portrait of a life told in 12 scenes set out to show rather than explain the plight of its young Parisian protagonist, trimming away all superfluous narrative and leaving the audience with 12 fragments of a larger story. This attempt at cinematic "objectivity" is not dissimilar to Pickpocket, in which Bresson’s austere storytelling only shows what is necessary to gain an "objective" perspective of the film’s story." – BFI

Robert Bresson
1959 | 73 min | B/W | 35mm 

"One of Bresson’s most admired works, Pickpocket is a perfect distillation of his mature style. The film straightforwardly chronicles the life of a petty thief, without any attempt to explain why Michel feels compelled to steal. Bresson’s ability to fracture space and time and focus attention on the apt fragments in order to delineate a process gets its most explicit demonstration in the montages wherein Michel hones and practices his skill. Perhaps most surprising is the diffuse eroticism – at times reminiscent of Genet – that permeates the film, pointing towards the more overt sensuality of the later Bresson. With its mixture of the criminal and the ineffable, Pickpocket is one of the director’s most influential works." – Harvard Film Archive

Vivre sa Vie
Jean-Luc Godard
1962 | 85 min | B/W | 35mm

"Using interview techniques, direct sound, long takes, texts, quotations, and statistics, Godard creates a documentary tone for this film about Nana S. (Karina), a girl from the provinces who can't pay her rent and is initiated into prostitution in Paris. Godard's film is a probing and dazzling examination of prostitution but, above all, a passionate celluloid love letter to Karina, then the director's wife. His close-ups of her face bring to mind the incomparable faces of another era: Louise Brooks, Lillian Gish, and Falconetti.” – Harvard Film Archive

Vivre sa Vie told the story of the life and death of a young prostitute, but it was also a tribute by Godard to Dreyer, Bresson, and his actress wife Anna Karina, and he did well by all three. Extremely objective – existential, even – the film nevertheless communicated great emotion, partly through his use of Dreyerian close-ups almost everything was in the faces. Godard was not afraid to let us compare Anna Karina with Falconetti (an extract from Dreyer’s Jeanne d’Arc is cut into the film), and Miss Karina was far from being annihilated by the comparison. In moments such as her solo dance around a pool table she achieved not only the intensity of a Falconetti, but the compelling fascination of a Louise Brooks. But for all the references to Dreyer, and Godard’s own statement that he wanted to do for prostitution what Bresson had done for the world of thieves in Pickpocket, Vivre sa vie remained defiantly original in its enormous reliance on close-ups and its comparatively long takes, it was quite different from his earlier films, nonetheless one could not mistake his style, a compound of sloth, nervous energy and a will to abstraction. The intermittent use of silence and the camera movements can only be explained by purely formal necessities.