Robert Bresson, France, 1959, Diaphana


The first shot of this scene is a sequence shot where Bresson masters a play between what he shows and hides from us in one shot. The shot begins with the main character coming in the station, but instead of following him, Bresson lets him leave the picture and films a couple that was behind him and who has no role in this scene. This couple then passes by a woman in a suit, holding a luggage in each hand and her handbag under her arm. The camera then follows that woman up to the counter where she stops. Starting from a close-up on her luggage, Bresson moves up to show us the pickpocket coming close to her. He hid him and his itinerary away from us from the start through a game of a wandering camera, as if it was distracted, which followed the first person in sight, even people who had nothing to do with the action. Instead of showing us the film’s main character, who is the true scene stake, Bresson shows us some anonymous people who are only there to hide the pickpocket’s moves when then appears suddenly after we lost sight of him.

To film the woman’s bag theft, Bresson makes the radical choice of not filming the characters, their faces, but only the move of the stolen bag from one hand to another. We cannot recognise who the hands belong to because what is important for Bresson is to show the well thought through mechanism of the pickpockets technique, the perfect synchronous rhythm of their actions, not their identity. One of Bresson’s theories was that hands often act independently from the brain and will, that they are gifted with a long autonomy, especially when it’s actions repeated a hundred times before.
The following theft, the notes sticking out of the wallet is filmed in one mastered sequence shot where Bresson plays with the frame sizes: we go from the man who gets robbed in full, perfectly seen, but the frame closes down on his hand and his wallet until another hand anonymously comes to steal the notes and passes them to other anonymous hands before a shot widening enables us to see that this last man in the theft chain is no one else but the main character.
For the third theft, the one from the man with the hat, Bresson makes a different choice: he shows us this time, in the same close frame, the faces of the robbed man and the three thieves, but the hands job is much more elliptic, shown is very short shots. Indeed, what is important here, this time, does not lie on mastering technics but the rapidity of decision between the three accomplices when they risk being caught: put the stolen wallet in another traveller’s pocket in case the man who got robbed would understand what happened to him.