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Mr. Klein

Mr. Klein
1976 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 123 min. / Monsieur Klein Street Date May 18, 2004 / 19.95
Starring Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Berge, Michael Lonsdale, Juliet Berto, Suzanne Flon, Francine Racette
Cinematography Gerry Fisher
Production Designer Olivier Girard
Art Direction Alexandre Trauner
Film Editors Marie Castro-Vasquez, Henri Lanoë, Michèle Neny
Original Music Egisto Macchi, Pierre Porte
Written by Fernando Morandi and Franco Solinas
Produced by Ralph Baum, Alain Delon, Robert Kuperberg
Directed by Joseph Losey

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 incriminate him.

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 victimized.

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 and self-importance 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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 21, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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