“One single mystery for persons and objects,” Robert Bresson wrote, and it’s no disservice to his models (to use his preferred term) to note that they are every bit as distinct as his things. Casting individuals virgin of acting experience by the criteria of face and voice, he recorded indelible presences within a strictly delimited range, and accusations of monotony are refuted by how singular these figures remain. Witness The Models of Pickpocket director-cinematographer Babette Mangolte’s chance encounter at a party with the gentle, retreating smile of Pierre Leymarie. She pegs him at first as perhaps an old schoolmate, rather than a supporting model in her favorite film, Pickpocket.
This central enigma of Bresson’s films, the notion that one gains a better sense of a room through a closed door, forms the crux of Mangolte’s video investigation. Its strength lies in her willingness to watch, as Leymarie and Pickpocket co-stars share their sense of an experience in which participation appears to have gained them no privileged insight. But one simply stares harder, trying to locate the unknowns behind these bodies, returned from the film to time and imprecise motion, posing the unanswerable question of whether Bresson found or imposed his essences.