“How did you get it?”
We all strive to be pure, to be worthy of those we love. Oftentimes, however, such illusions of grandeur are nothing more than a façade to hide who we really are. Even in dream the titular petty thief (David Amito) of Beware Pickpocket sees himself as the bloodied punching bag of the victims he isn’t quite good enough to escape. You can dress a criminal to look upstanding, but he can change himself. So, despite putting on the clothes and practicing the smile of success like the cute little rabbit catching the eye of the girl he left behind, he will always be laid bare with his dark, selfish soul never able to truly put his love above the rush of his con artist ways.
Written by Amito and directed by Michael Lacini, the film moves on an intriguing path of plot discovery from its cryptic, nightmarish start until its inevitably cyclical end. The symbolism of the opening supermarket sequence with its beautiful checkout girl and rabbit unable to remain an unblemished white is the complete film wrapped in a small surrealistic package. All Amito’s con man desires is a reunion with his lost love in Toronto, hopefully to find the same blushing grin he sees her make at the rabbit in his dream. He longs for her acceptance, but she can no longer let herself be sucked into his world of unseemly action. She is in the midst of leaving that life behind and seeing him only brings back memories of the life she’d rather forget.
Shot with a whimsical flourish to comically filter the antics of our lead upon his arrival in the city, we’re led entertainingly through his amoral thought process and lifestyle. He catches his first mark out the bus window using a cell phone. Needing the means to call the escort service Charlotte (Elisabeth Lagerlöf) works for, he decides to do what he does best and throws himself on the pavement to receive the charitable assistance necessary to get close and steal the device. From there we see him transform into a blind accordion player, chased out of a public bathroom, and mugging for the security cameras after swiping another gentleman’s ATM card. It’s a fun sequence of events set to a light-hearted score that leave us unprepared for the drama to ensue.
What follows is a tempo change into the quiet emotional storm of a badly conceived ambush on his behalf to wow Charlotte with a new suit and bouquet of flowers. But she knows better; she knows what it is he does and that he’ll never be able to stop. It’s a struggle to get her to stay and hear him out as she shuts down and shows her displeasure in the rendezvous. The fact she stays to complete her job only exacerbates the situation with a visible indifference and sarcastic sexual response. It’s unsurprising to believe Amito’s character would go about seeing her in this way because it appears a life on the fringe is all he knows. Laughing when she talks about getting out of prostituting, he must plea for her to meet him later with the tiniest shred of hope in declarations ringing false.
This homecoming is an emotional roller coaster as we watch his longing, her revulsion, their sardonically brief tryst, and the authenticity of their parting with equal parts anger, forgiveness, and cautious optimism. The choice to set it all in a hotel room with leather, skin, and candid conversation is a bold one because it’s mix of comedy and drama could have made everything unbelievable and trite. But Lacini and Amito make it work as the latter exposes his character’s vulnerability and Lagerlöf owns her self-aware call girl growing up. We feel the chemistry as well as the knowledge they’ll only spiral farther towards hell if given the chance.
Couple this exchange with Amito’s pickpocketing of an older, well-dressed male in broad daylight and you see the talent involved at work. The deed is shown evolving from his poorly disguised beggar scoping out possible victims to the quick costume change allowing for the proximity to palm the wallet. Using split-screen we are able to see both vantage points collide before the many ATM withdrawals flicker across the frame. It’s a fun lark watching Amito’s confidence reach its apex before Charlotte shoots it down. And while we want to believe he can go straight and settle down, the concluding reveal does prove the most appropriate finish to the story. Bittersweet as all remnants of the rabbit’s potential disappears; his broken man still finds a way to crack one last joke in a fitting end to a highly enjoyable tale.