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Mr. Klein (The Criterion Collection)
Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein, from 1976, is a unique World War II film that focuses on those involved in a different aspect of the war.
Set in the Paris of 1942, Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is an art dealer who doesn't really have a problem with the way that the Germans, currently occupying France, are running things. He is not affected by their politics, and chooses not to care. In fact, things are going well for Klein. He seems to have it all: a slick apartment, a beautiful mistress and a well established art dealing business.
When the French government decides to turn on its Jewish population, many of the Jewish citizens quickly find themselves strapped for cash and needing to get out of the country. This puts Klein in the unique situation of being able to purchase their artwork at cut throat prices, knowing that they'll take whatever he offers them, no matter how much he may be ripping them off.
Klein starts to sing a slightly different tune though when he is mistaken for a totally different Robert Klein who also lives in Paris and just happens to be of Jewish origin. This other Mr. Klein also happens to have a few skeletons in his closet that attract the attention of the local authorities who end up following some carefully placed evidence to the first Mr. Klein's doorstep.
Mr. Klein is a well-paced thriller that not only keeps you guessing but makes you think as well. Delon's Klein is a bastard right off the bat and while it isn't easy to like him, it is easy to relate to him. We've all been on one side or another of a bum business deal, we've all been taken advantage of, and we all know how much it sucks when it happens. Delon's character is the one who took advantage of us, and Losey makes it easy to dislike him. But at the same time, he's not the Mr. Klein that the authorities come looking for, and we know this. Does he deserve what happens to him because of this legitimate case of mistaken identity? Is it karma, in a sense?
Delon is fantastic in the lead. Those who are familiar with his performances only from police and crime movies like Le Samourai and Tony Arzenta are in for a treat as we see a slightly more complicated side of his ability. His character is stuck in a moral dilemma and Delon makes us believe it.
Losey directs the film with a subtlety that builds the tension quite effectively, even if we don't realize it until it's all said and done with. The pacing is quite deliberate, allowing the story to unfold one small piece at a time and while it's hardly a slow film, it is one that pays out bigger if you pay attention to it as the little details really do form a bigger picture. When Klein's friends find out about his dilemma, their cold reaction to his plight seems to say a lot about his own indifference to what he himself was doing to the Jews before the government decided that he was one of them. An interesting paradox, and this movie is full of them.
Mr. Kleincomes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 widescreen transfer that has some problems despite the fact that it's based on a new 4k restoration taken from the film's original 35mm negative. The increase in detail is evident from the start, but the film's color scheme has been tweaked here, giving things a blue/green tint that never looks quite natural and which makes the film's leading man look like a corpse. This color grading also results in detail getting lost in the film's many darker scenes, where blacks are visibly crushed and lighter hues get lost. There are also compression artifacts visible in many of these darker scenes as well, and while they're aren't as distracting as the color tweaking is, they're hard to miss. On the plus side, again, detail bests the old DVD edition handily and the elements used for the transfer were clearly in excellent shape as there's virtually no print damage to note whatsoever, but the new color scheme looks very off.
Mr. Klein is presented in its original sound mix, which is a 24-bit LPCM French mono track with removable English subtitles. As far as mono tracks go, this one is tops with clear and clean dialogue, well balanced levels, and hardly a hint of distortion or hiss to be found anywhere in the mix.
Extras start off with an archival television clip that document the film's history. The first of these is from the April 25, 1976 episode of Pour le cinema and it sees both Delon and Losey covering the history of the project and why they decided to make the movie for thirteen minutes. Up next is a newer piece which interviews editor Henri Lanoe for twenty-seven minutes about his background, how he came to work on the project and what it was like working with Losey.
Also on hand is a forty-nine minute interview with film critic Michel Ciment who shares his thoughts on Joseph Losey's life and the importance of his career to the history of film. Losey And Ciment is a thirty-four minute audio recording of an interview that Ciment conducted with the filmmaker in 1976 that goes over the making of Mr. Klein. These two pieces complement one another quite nicely.
Story Of A Day: The Vel d'Hiv Roundup is a feature length ninety-four minute archival documentary from 1986 that goes over the real life details of The Vel d'Hiv Roundup which occurred back in 1942 and which was obviously a big influence on the making of Mr. Klein. It's pretty harrowing stuff, as it interviews first hand a lot of people who were personally affected by the event.
Finishing up the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options. The disc is accompanied by an insert booklet containing an essay from Ginette Vincendeau as well as credits for the film and for the Blu-ray release itself alongside some technical information about the presentation.
Mr. Klein is a cynical but fascinating film with solid and artistic direction from Losey and a great performance from the always reliable Alain Delon. Criterion's Blu-ray release features excellent sound quality and a nice selection of extras, but a transfer that leaves a lot of room for improvement. Recommended on the strength of the movie and the supplements rather than the presentation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.