Babette Mangolte's recent documentary on the making of Robert Bresson's Pickpocket (France, 1959), wherein she interviews Bresson's three principal models-Martin Lassalle (Michel), Marika Green (Jeanne), and Pierre Leymarie (Jacques)-has many charms. But perhaps most immediately notable among them are the enthusiasm, adoration, tenderness, and regret that all three of her subjects exude when speaking of their brief encounter with Bresson. Forty years after this encounter, each of Mangolte's subjects countenances a passion for Bresson that is very intense and alive, as if hopeful, in some strange way, that it can still be satisfied. Mangolte herself alludes to this characteristic of her subjects in her early treatment of the film when she raises a question to which her film will propose a quick answer: "Can one summer's experience transform a life forever?" (Mangolte 1998, 278). Granted, it is an idea more readily encountered in the summer teen film than in the canons of modernist film. Yet, here in Mangolte's new film is Martin Lassalle telling us that it took him fifteen to twenty years to get over working with Bresson (forty years later he's still gushing), and the radiant Marika Green beaming as she tells of her girlhood crush on the much older, and very proper, Bresson-a crush that seems to endure even now. Indeed, that passion seems almost authorized in her home, which looks, at moments, like a Bresson museum. Indeed, in a very intriguing turn, Marika Green reflects on the unfortunate consequences of this shared passion for Bresson:
I must say that I've never met the other interpreters of Bresson-only Anna Wiazemsky. We met each other in a theater workshop with Ariane Mouchkine a long time ago. Why did we never meet? I know some have met each otherAnne, Florence Delay, Dominique Sanda-but there was always a little aggressiveness. I ask myself, what does this aggressiveness mean? Why was there no understanding? Why didn't we form a group or a club of Bresson veterans? And I told myself there must be a kind of jealousy-that may not be the right term-or rather, a kind of intimacy that everyone wanted to keep, like their secret garden-just me and Bresson.
There is something very sad about Green's observation, how her desire to learn more about Bresson, and to simply share her experience with the few others like her, is thwarted by jealously. One could say that this is a very gendered, and none too flattering, observation. How many stories, after all, do we need of young actresses whose passion for a handsome, older director leads only to division and solitude? But that's too easy, I think, not to mention reductive. For Green goes on to speculate that part of this silence was no doubt owed to a fear that everyone would have had a very similar experience and, with that knowledge, would be forced to surrender this secret garden. Bresson would be returned to the place of silence and remove from which he came. The more one might ask about Bresson, the less one might know.
Green's idea about her would-be fellowship of Bresson veterans is much more than highbrow gossip. In particular, it speaks volumes about not only Bresson's models but his fans and his critics as well-if the two can be separated. The first time I saw Les Modèles de Pickpocket/The Models of Pickpocket (Babette Mangolte, U.S., 2003), and thus the first time I heard these lines, was at a screening at the Bresson Symposium at Sarah Lawrence College in December 2002, organized by Malcolm Turvey. Turvey had invited four Bresson scholars to give papers that day, of which I was one. The day began, however, with a screening of Mangolte's new film, which she also attended and answered questions afterward. I had been eager to see Mangolte's film since I first read her treatment/essay for the film in James Quandt's very important anthology, Robert Bresson (1999). Having spent the previous three years writing on Bresson, and many years before that as a "fan," I was well acquainted with the paucity of biographical information about Bresson, who rarely gave interviews, and when he did, often just disputed the claims made about him without ever really setting the record straight, so to speak. …