Michel deludes himself with Nietzschean philosophy, unable to sustain human connections and addicted to the adrenaline of the thief’s creed. Director Robert Bresson drains all emotion and vitality from Michel’s self-inflicted suffering: he becomes Tabula Rosa for the audience to project upon, the silver screen that reflects the dim light of apathy and dishonesty.
Michel remains elusive and disconnected, his shock of dark hair and vapid features a template, a man who seems to care very little for others except in a way that is beneficial to him. He must be urged to visit his dying mother and it is revealed later that he stole from her too, and he is without remorse. He is truly happy when he joins in a conspiracy, finally able to share a common interest. Bresson films a fantastically choreographed fête of thievery upon a train where Michel’s elation is an orgasm of dishonest delight. Bresson’s use of a tight close-up of fingers massaging buttons, gently caressing jackets and deftly slipping inside for the payoff: an incantation of sexual energy.
Michel’s audaciousness is contrasted with the Police Inspector who toys with him, unable to bring a probable cause affidavit but fueling Michel’s troublesome spirit with the specter of guilt and loneliness. Fearing arrest, Michel leaves the country and Bresson utilizes a vertiginous jump cut in time that makes the narrative seem disorganized and chaotic, much like the paranoid allusions of the protagonist. Bresson makes suffering the fire that burns away the sophisticated veneer of self-delusion, and it’s through grief and sorrow that his characters discover their true natures. Michel eventually returns and plays the odds…but the (Jail)House always wins. His salvation is found through a lovely kiss separated by cold iron bars.
Final Grade: (A)