PICKPOCKET (BFI Blu-ray). Famously austere director Robert Bresson’s film is heavily influenced by Crime and Punishment but replaces old-lady murder with the more socially acceptable crime of theft.
Michel (Martin LaSalle) steals some money at a horse race and is picked up by a police inspector who lets him go due to lack of evidence. As in Dostoevsky’s novel, Michel – rather feebly – puts forward the case that some people are, because of their superiority, above the law and should be allowed to break it.
It’s hard to fathom in which field of human endeavour Michel thinks he excels as his whole character is rather opaque. It’s immediately apparent that LaSalle is not a professional actor and his performance is not exactly bad just reined in almost to the point of blankness.
The Inspector plays a game of cat and mouse with the film’s antihero, occasionally showing up at his seedy apartment to give him something between a pep talk and a warning. It all leads up to a final shot in which Michel seeks to be physically consoled by the woman he loves despite the two of them being physically separated by prison bars.
As the baroque music rises on the soundtrack it seems that Bresson is – and this may sound vaguely heretical – actually tugging on the audience’s heartstrings. And to make matters worse it strongly reminds me of the scene when Dumbo is comforted by his mother through her prison bars. An ice-cool treatise on criminality with a surprise sentimental ending inspired by Disney? Probably not, but on first viewing this interpretation at least seems plausible.
GET CARTER (BFI Blu-ray). On his way up to his home town of Newcastle, Jack Carter (Michael Caine) is seen reading Farewell My Lovely. Director Mike Hodges is, none too subtly, foreshadowing the intricate plotting and macho morality of classic American noir.
The plot revolves around Caine avenging the murder of his brother but in order to get to the culprit he has to untangle a whole web of motivations involving a seedy property developer, a local crime boss (playwright John Osborne) and his own Kray-like bosses. There’s also a small number of women who he sleeps with, slaps around and even murders.
Carter is no Philip Marlowe, he’s a brutish, psychotic thug, yet Caine’s performance – and some snappy dialogue – make him so watchable that the audience ends up queasily rooting for him.
Although no one in the film, apart from his niece (though she might actually be his daughter), has anything approaching a human character the archetypes are so well sketched it really doesn’t matter.
From the campy hitman to the slightly less campy crime boss played by Osborne almost all the men are fascinatingly reptilian. Ian Hendry as Osborne’s lackey is particularly good: there’s no histrionics he’s just calmly, repulsively evil. It’s a film often accused of misogyny due to the terrible way its women are treated but it’s the women who are portrayed with anything approaching humanity. It’s a brilliant, unlovely film and an important milestone in the history of British cinema.
VAMPYR (Eureka Blu-ray). The first 20 minutes of Dreyer’s supernatural drama are amongst the finest of ‘30s horror. It comprises a series of hallucinatory dreamlike images which conjure up an uncanny netherworld where everything is strangely out of kilter.
A man arrives in a sleepy village, is woken up by a mysterious stranger and then goes on a weird nighttime odyssey. He eventually arrives at a manor house and here the somewhat confusing plot kicks in.
It then becomes a perfectly serviceable vampire drama but the magic seems to evaporate as the film has to get on with the understandable business of telling a story. In comparison to the beginning the climax seems almost mundane in that the villain’s death feels like something from a minor Hitchcock. Vampyr is a great movie which, in its first third, points to how it could have been a work of genius.
THE APPOINTMENT (BFI Blu-ray). This British supernatural drama from 1981 never got a cinema release and it’s not hard to see why. It starts off with a schoolgirl disappearing due to some inexplicable force and this admittedly powerful sequence is never mentioned again.
The director’s commentary explains it was done simply to keep the interest of the notoriously fickle TV audience. Which might be good for advertising revenue but narratively it leaves a bit of a hole. There’s no real plot, just a series of uncanny – but mostly quite boring – incidents.
Edward Woodward is the boring father with a boring wife and a daughter who may have Carrie-like powers. The latter’s performance is so wooden it easily transcends dullness and becomes quite hypnotic.
The photography is very muddy and occasionally it’s hard to see what’s going on. The aforementioned commentary is probably the most entertaining thing on the disc as it features someone from the BFI desperate to praise the film yet constantly getting things wrong.
There’s a rather embarrassing bit where some apples are described, almost heroically, as both a leitmotif and a McGuffin. Although awful it’s not quite awful enough not to have garnered a cult following: if you like pretentiously defending absolute nonsense then this is probably the film for you.