Friday, November 12, 2010


[Originally posted on the Melbourne Writer's Festival blog:]

There’s a scene from Robert Bresson’s film Pickpocket, which the screenwriter and director Paul Schrader quotes repeatedly in his work – but Schrader alters it.

The version in American Gigolo takes place in an official area. A woman visits a man. They’re separated by a pane of glass. The woman brings her right hand up across the line of her body, reaching forwards, and rests the outer edge of her fingers along the inside of the glass. The man leans in to press his forehead against the same point on the other side of the glass, hard. Their movements are reciprocal rather than identical. It’s the closest they’ll ever get to touching.

In Pickpocket, Bresson’s protagonists are also separated, but by bars rather than glass. They can touch, if only obliquely. She kisses his fist, which grips a bar. He presses his cheek to her temple; or rather they press together the small cross-sections of skin that can be contained within a single square of the prison grid.

In the version of the scene from Schrader’s Light Sleeper, there are no bars and no glass, and the final shot initially appears to be a still, which freezes the image of Willem Dafoe’s character kissing the hand of Susan Sarandon’s character. But even as the credits roll, even as they keep rolling, it’s only the flickering of Dafoe’s closed eyes – moving like those of a dreamer in the R.E.M. phase – that betrays the patience of both actors.

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