As far as I was concerned, I had never touched either theater or film.
So I arrived on the set fresh and naïve. And I was ready to do
whatever I was asked to do. Often Bresson gave a small indication
of the tone. He would say, “ you could say it like this…”
Or at first, he was simply asking us to do it, and if that suited
him - and most of the time it did not suit him - you had to say it
in another way.
(“Jacques”, currently living in Caen and Paris, France)
And you had to repeat more than once. And the takes would follow one
after another. Five takes, ten takes were common, fifteen or twenty.
And I think we once went up to thirty-six takes…
Something curious happens when you have to repeat a very brief dialogue,
with only three or four lines one after the other. After a certain
number of repetitions it’s like brainwashing, which means that
you don’t know very well what you are saying.
But I think he wanted, first, to have choices, and secondly –
I think he wrote that later – it is when the model is free of
all intentionality that his expressivity is adequate to the needs
of the filmmaker. At least that is Bresson’s idea.
I ask myself, in retrospect, if that neutrality is not just there
as the device permitting the viewer, when he sees the film, to introduce
elements personal to himself. And therefore make it possible for everyone
to see a somewhat different film, because the starting point is neutral.
But there are also some accents, like the looks. And those looks can
express different things, even if the indications of what they express
are very discrete.
And I think that gives room, perhaps, to imagine different versions,
imagined by different spectators, for different spectators.
I think Bresson said that the more neutral the image, the more
it can be modified by contact with other images. That neutrality
allows the viewer to enter the film, and make it his own. What a
subtle idea. You need a scientific mind to think about it.
(“Jeanne”, currently living in Lans, Austria)
When I arrived, Bresson looked at me briefly, like that, in that
office, he was on one side, I was on the other with my mother next
to me, and we spoke a little, and voila. It was done. After, obviously,
we read that famous text of Bethany, by Giraudoux, for training.
But before, there was never any camera test.
At the time when he decided and asked me to be in the film, to
be Jeanne, he also told me, “you are not really the part,
you are not representing exactly what I had in mind. But you would
be perfect for Gwenivere in “Lancelot of the Lake,”
a film that I want to do in color. But I’m not ready for color.
And it’s not for tomorrow. And you, you will be too old.”
So Jeanne, I say yes, and I rushed to a bookstore because I had
never read the tales of the round table, or “Lancelot of the
Lake.” I immediately bought the book because I wanted to know
what he was talking about. Why Gwenivere? What did he mean by saying
not Jeanne, but Gwenivere?
Later, obviously I had the script for “Pickpocket” –
not the shooting script, just the script. But the script, we really
had it in our hand.
Do you still have it?
Oh yes, yes.
Was he also very attentive to Martino?
Less, less…Martino, he had to suffer, like the country priest
and the man who escapes, they had to suffer.
Yeah, that was
part of the preparation.
Yeah, that’s it. The girls suffer less.
He was not Machiavellian; he did not want to destroy anyone. But
he was searching for the moment when a person abandons himself.
He wanted to retrieve that moment of abandonment, I think.
And us, the youngest, we could abandon ourselves without any problem.
We did not have any psychological hang-ups yet. We were doing…poof…we
We are not self-conscious.
That is what is interesting; we are between the child and the adult
at this age. And he knew it, I think.
With his female protagonists…maybe he was asking more of the
women. No, no it’s not true. In “Pickpocket,” it
is Michel who is important, it is not Jeanne.
I don’t know exactly how we gave ourselves to this man, because,
after all, we did not give to the part, but to the man, the director,
to what he was doing.
We were not clear about what he was doing, even if we had the script.
We were not professionals. We could not account for editing, and
the cinematographic direction that was going on.
Were there many rehearsals before the first take?
Maybe he liked to shoot a lot because that brings tension - “roll”
“action” - for every body, not only for the protagonists,
but for the crew as well.
No, there were few. And most of the mistakes, and whatever he did
not like, were in fact filmed.
He was correcting, in a way, musically. Telling us not to drop the
voice. To keep it open, the voice, a little higher, deeper, no inflection.
But he was not really telling us the tone.
No comma. Don’t breathe here. Say it in one breath. And he
was listening. He was more or less giving us the pitch of the voice.
Did he presume that you could control your voice somewhat?
And was his idea of control about maintaining the same tone?
Absolutely. Like a scale on a piano, once you learn it you have
it. You are not supposed to deviate from it. And obviously, during
the shooting, we had to deviate. Not because we were trying to play.
He still had to equalize the tone for us.
Was it easy or difficult for you?
Oh yes, it was somewhat difficult.
At this age, you are so sure of yourself. It’s fantastic.
That’s what I miss of my youth, that sense of being sure.
(the “Pickpocket” currently living in Mexico City)
Above all, we have lost the tone of voice that is Bresson’s.
But I see in recent films that same tone of voice. For instance,
in “Red,” Jean Louis Trintignant, who is a good friend,
and in “The Letter,” the Manoel de Oliveira film, there
is a tone of voice that is completely Bressonian.
Do you know the photograph that Bresson always gave out? —
Dear Master, forgive me—
That was a photograph made by the studio “Harcourt.”
You remember the studio “Harcourt,” which photographed
the great stars of French cinema?
That photograph of Bresson when he was so much younger.
One day, during the shooting of ‘Pickpocket,” when
we really didn’t talk that much about the film…
I must say, Babette, that for me, it was an extraordinary experience
to work on “Pickpocket.” It was really a chance, an extraordinary
opportunity, to participate in the film.
But one day, I don’t know why, I tell Bresson, “The
editor seems to be very interesting.”
This editor was named Lamy. Bresson told me something extraordinary:
“You know Martino,”
In Paris everybody called me Martino—
“Do you know Martino, he is extraordinary. He has no ideas.”
I told myself that he probably thinks the same about all of us working
on his film. You know that everyone called him Monsieur Bresson.
And even Burel, the director of photography, who was, as you know,
a great personality of the French cinema, who came out of retirement
to shoot the films of Bresson. The last one Burel shot was “Pickpocket,”
I believe. Even Burel, who shot “La Roue by Abel Gance,”
called him Monsieur Bresson!
I think he wanted to provoke an inner tension that would be reflected
specifically in the eyes, in the hands. I think that is one of the
reasons he had chosen me, aside from the fact that I had never worked
in cinema, or let’s say, that I was not an actor. That definitely
was a reason. I was innocent. I was totally in his hands. I had that
enormous responsibility to work.
You are in every shot.
Yes, that’s it; I am in every shot. And to work on a film by
Bresson, it was an incredible honor to be chosen for the role of the
And I must say, it must have taken me between 10 and 15 years to recover
from that experience.
I gave myself totally to Robert Bresson. Truly, I gave myself totally.
I never questioned. I totally exhausted myself…
That business of the staircase we were asked to climb forty times,
there must have been a reason. I think that maybe it was to weaken
the ego of the model, or the actor. I am not sure. I think it was
for that reason. But, maybe it was also to create an inner tension
that would be reflected in the actor’s body, reflected in his
eyes and in his hands. It was exhausting because of the heat, also
because of the repeated takes, and because I was in every shot, and
in a state of doubt.
I was asking myself what was going to happen, is the work going to
be interesting, what is going to happen when the film is finished?
There was a certain anguish, you could say, for someone who is not
tough, and who is not an actor, and who is not really prepared for
this kind of work. But, with an actor, you would not get the same
I must say that when I shot Bresson’s film, I had no consciousness
of Bresson’s work, nor of the work that we were doing together.
I was completely malleable and innocent. But, when we were speaking
of Bresson, he was number one. In my case, it was something unforgettable.
Arriving at the pinnacle of cinema, working on a film by Robert Bresson,
especially then, before the New Wave.
I felt the tension of a pickpocket. I think, even if we are, as he
says, only models; in spite of that, we take part in the activity.
If we were not taking part, it wouldn’t be there. To be able
to participate, we had to internalize the activity. If we didn’t,
it would have been impossible.
Why did you decide to go to
the Actor’s Studio?
I was interested in the work of the actor, if you like. As I already
told you, I felt I was in a state, as if I were living the situation.
Not externally, but in a sensorial way. And yes, I was feeling that
I was living the situation. That’s the reason I was interested
to study with Lee Strasberg.
What about the diaries written in the school notebook?
Oh, yes, we shot that, but I don’t remember where. It wasn’t
in the studio of Michel’s room. It was in another studio. We
had a small table. We shot the diary in one or two days.
it really your handwriting?
Yes, it is my handwriting. And it’s interesting what you say,
because, as you have seen in the script, literally everything is written.
And there is also the commentary, which was recorded in a studio on
the Champs-Élysées, near Avenue Georges V. In this dubbing
studio, we recorded the commentary. As you know, everything is repeated.
First it is written; then it is spoken in the commentary. And then
there is a third stage, where the action is repeated in images. I
think this is a technique particular to Bresson. Apparently, Dostoievski
uses the same method in his novels, of repeating the action two or
three times. First written, then spoken, then in images.
I think that the interest of the film, and of Bresson’s actors,
is because what is happening is really true and genuine in the film.
And yes, the pickpocket is a real person, you could say.
A young man who does not know what to do, who is looking for emotion
and excitement in himself, and he finds it by stealing, because stealing
— after all— is not nothing.
Maybe deep within himself, Bresson admired his interpreters, as people
who could give themselves entirely. But to go from there to speak
of admiration for us, no I don’t think so.
His films were his most important goal, to transmit a certain idea,
a certain sensation.
And after all, Bresson’s work is here.
And the people who he worked with, we are still here. We are immortal.
Bresson is always here, as we say in Spanish, vigente. And he is inside
of us, in our life, on the screen, and in books. He is always here.
Scenario and Direction, Camera and editing: Babette Mangolte
Assistant editor: Kenny Strickland
Additional sound recording: Nicolas Hirsute, Jim Smith
Additional Camera: Mark Daniels
Post Production in Paris: AVIDIA
NOTE: The film is mastered in DIGITAL BETA (Beta Numérique)
PAL 16:9 with ENGLISH SUBTITLES. The original is in FRENCH.
First Public Screening: Film Museum Vienna March 29,2003
Master in NTSC Digital Beta 16:9
Special Screening at Cinematexas in 2003 AUSTIN Texas
Screenings at the Filmmusuem in Munich (February 2004)
Film Center, Chicago, IL
Anthology Film Archives, New York City
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MASS
Museum of Modern Art, Portland, OR
Smith College, MASS