Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Here's a puzzle picture worthy of Luis Borges or Franz Kafka. This Joseph Losey film is dramatically
muted and at times purposely unclear, but it captures perfectly the bureaucratic nightmare of the
German occupation of France and a main character who, like "K" in The Trial, reveals his
essential guilt through his protestations of innocence.
Beautifully directed, appointed and photographed, Losey's exercise in paranoia is perhaps the best
of his late career films.
Many opportunists flourish amid the hardships of occupied France. One of these is
Mr. Klein (Alain Delon), a suave Catholic who profits by purchasing artworks at bargain prices from
terrorized Jews. Busy with his mistress Nicole (Juliet Berto) and the wife (Francine Berge) of
his lawyer friend Pierre (Michael Lonsdale), Klein is understandably upset when a Jewish newspaper
is delivered to his door. Someone is trying to confuse him with another Klein,
a wanted Jew, and he drops everything to clear his name. The trouble is that getting one's name
onto undesirable lists is easy, but getting it taken off is almost impossible. With his birth records
slow in coming, Klein discovers that "the other Klein" seems to be leaving an evidence trail to
Mr. Klein is a better version of The Trial than The Trial itself. Klein
cynically takes advantage of the injustices suffered by French Jews, pretending to be
their friend while robbing them blind. Desperate to raise money and out of time, the forlorn man
who comes to Klein's swank apartment to sell a masterpiece for a pittance is being doubly
The vulture Klein thinks himself smart and practical, and not once worries about
his "clients" until fate pulls a sneaky trick by putting him on the mailing list of a Jewish
newspaper. He's "innocent" of being Jewish, and the implied accusation needs to be corrected right
away. Somewhere in Paris is another Mr. Klein, a fugitive Jew who is framing our Catholic Klein to
take the police off his scent.
Klein throws himself into a desperate effort to clear his name. The Jewish newspapermen who have
his name on their mailing list aren't any help - the Gestapo allow the paper to be circulated just
so they will have access to the mailing list for later police action. All Klein has to do is to
wait for the birth records of his parents and grandparents to arrive, but in the meantime he finds
his collaborationist friends are treating him more cooly than ever. His attempts to locate
the "other" Klein lead to a curious empty apartment and an elusive girlfriend.
Alain Delon's Klein is definitely in a Kafka identity trap. His protests only bring him to the
attention to the police and alienate his false friends. He goes on a private investigation to
the mysterious apartment, and follows a telephone lead to a strange out of town party where the
hostess (Jeanne Moreau) suspiciously half-seduces him. Klein's obsession with clearing his name only
sinks him into deeper jeopardy, and instead of unmasking a criminal he inadvertently "becomes"
exactly what he's accused of being.
Curiously, the movie that most resembles Mr. Klein is Alfred Hitchcock's
North by NorthWest. Both Klein and
Roger Thornhill are "inconveniently" confused with mystery men wanted by spies or the police.
Both investigate their opposite numbers not realizing that apartments (hotel rooms) and contacts
may all be a complicated hoax to confuse the issue of personal identity. Both men are distracted
by beautiful women working for the other side.
But Hitchcock's spy game is morally uncomplicated. Roger Thornhill is perhaps guilty of rudeness
but he's not cheating anybody, unless we're to get really serious about the advertising game. He
even has the luxury to criticize the morals of the "good guys" when he tells Leo G. Carroll
that the USA should get ready to lose some Cold Wars if they have to do things like ask women to
sleep with the enemy.
Mr. Klein is quite different. His livelihood is based on the direct suffering of others and is
only possible because of a criminally perverted society that is victimizing an entire class of
people. As has been repeatedly shown in docus like
The Sorrow and the Pity, the Germans
didn't have to impose anti-Semitism on their French territories, as French politicians and
opportunists like Klein were eager to victimize Jews under the new German rule. Klein makes his
living by fleecing refugees, and gets to pretend he's doing them a favor.
It only takes a phoned subscription to a paper to turn the tables on Mr. Klein and start
his process of self-destruction. His protests of error fall on deaf ears, as many Jews claim errors
about their birth records. He continually shows up at the same suspicious places where detectives
are searching for the other Mr. Klein. And instead of quietly distancing himself from harm, Klein
insists on capturing the Jew who has wronged him.
Roger Thornhill learns that the margin between complacent normalcy and utter chaos can be crossed
just by calling for a bellboy at the wrong time. Mr. Klein may learn very little. Like "K" in
The Trial, he never grows out of his own selfish sense of outrage and ego. But we find
the answer to his quest: He is indeed the villain.
Alain Delon's self-important Mr. Klein is perhaps his best acted role and has nothing to do with his
usual emotionless police or crook character. Jeanne Moreau's second billing is out of proportion to
her small part in just one sequence. Juliet Berto is Klein's submissive lover. Michael Lonsdale is
Klein's only friend, and Suzanne Flon the suspicious landlady. Francine Racette has a nice part as
the elusive girlfriend that Klein finally catches up with. Francine Berge is Lonsdale's wife and
Klein's lover; she played Diana Monti in Georges Franju's wonderful Judex.
Home Vision Entertainment's DVD of Mr. Klein is excellent. The enhanced image showcases the
cinematography of Gerry Fisher and the art direction of Alexander Trauner; Klein's ritzy batchelor
den is particularly well designed.
There is an American trailer dubbed in English that sounds horrible after the natural French of the
feature itself. DVD has made watching foreign films far more rewarding than seeing them in theaters.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mr. Klein rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 21, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson