At the opening of "Teresa the Thief," Carlo DiPalma's film with Monica Vitti in the title role, it is noted that Teresa's story is a true one. This is the sort of assertion one expects before being shown the extraordinary, but it's no strain to the imagination to believe that Teresa, and millions like her all over the world, lived their predictable lives.

Teresa's is a picaresque saga, but on so small a scale: born into a brutal peasant family and expelled from it at any early age, she becomes a career pickpocket. Not suited to more elaborate crime, and not even good at wallet-lifting and purse-snatching, she shifts from street to prison and back with tedious regularity.

Meanwhile she weaves in and out of love. The picaresque hero - they are generally not heroines - needs a tremendous, audacious appeal to compensate for the more obvious deficiencies, and Vitti's Teresa is attractively jaunty and resilient. In the occassional bits of dialogue she makes gutsy wisecracks, and there are visually funny scenes; but the story is told by continuous first person narration and, at least in the English version, it is one long whine.

Yes, they shouldn't tie people up at prisons, and fathers shouldn't hit daughters, and Teresa shouldn't be separated from her baby, and the Allies shouldn't land on beaches where one is having a frolic.

One can even say yes, her hunger is enough to justify her picking pockets. But the circumstances are not special enough - nor is Teresa herself quite special enough, though she is a bright spot against the squalor - for this to make her a heroine.