Joseph Losey (director)
13 September 2021 (released)
12 September 2021
Alain Delon (who also produced this French drama film from 1976) once again stars in a ‘Doppelgänger role’ (having already featured in the segment ‘William Wilson’ in the 1968 supernatural portmanteau film ‘Spirits of the Dead’.) Here though he takes on a much more complex role as Mr. Klein, an emotionally bankrupt ‘vulture’ who, during the Nazi occupation in the Paris of 1942, gets richer by the day as unfortunate Jewish people, desperate to leave the country, sell their valid possessions to him until one day…
Paris, Winter 1942: France is in turmoil as the occupying Nazis make no secret of the fact that they wish to eradicate the country from its Jewish residents or anyone who doesn’t fit the picture of the ‘wholesome Aryan’ – leading to a particularly disturbing scene in which a middle-aged woman with Sephardic Jewish traits is examined by an indifferent doctor who humiliates her by measuring her skull, nostrils, hips etc. Meanwhile, in another part of town, wealthy art dealer Robert Klein (A. Delon), a Roman Catholic with an apparently apolitical stance, benefits from the misery of the Jewish citizens by buying their valuable artwork (usually underpaying them) so the Jews can get quick cash and leave the country. One particular Jewish client scolds Monsieur Klein, who keeps insisting how bad and guilty he feels to buy these artworks, by saying: “Don’t buy the paintings then”! As the client in question walks out the front door, Klein discovers a Jewish newspaper addressed to him – a worrying discovery as it means that he is now ‘on the radar’ so to speak. He calms himself and his mistress, Jeanine (Juliet Berto), by insisting that it must be a misunderstanding and that another Robert Klein obviously exists somewhere in town. Just to be on the safe side he reports the incident to the police, in sureness they will believe him though their initial response suggests they don’t and in fact suspect him of telling lies in order to hide his possible Jewish background.
Adamant in his desire to take matters into his own hands some of his investigations lead him to a poor Parisian slum area where the second Mr. Klein (who we never see throughout the film) had, up until recently, stayed together with a mysterious young woman who also seems to have vanished. Only a photo of her is discovered on a table with a name on it. Later, when the police follow Klein to the luxurious house of his good friend Pierre (Michael Lonsdale), a lawyer who lives there with his wife Nicole (Francine Bergé), Klein instructs Pierre to help him establish his ancestry to make sure there is no Jewish blood flowing in his veins. Although sceptical about this convincing the authorities, Pierre agrees - though he might change his mind were he aware that his wife Nicole is also a mistress of his worried client…
As the search for the second Mr. Klein and his elusive girlfriend becomes ever more feverish and Robert Klein’s behaviour takes on an even more obsessive pattern one lead takes him to the country estate of a very rich Jewish woman called Florence (Jeanne Moreau) with whom he apparently had an affair. Immediately sensing that this could be an opportunity to find out more about the doppelgänger Klein he takes a late train to the rural village where a chauffeur awaits him but this trip turns out to be a waste of time. Later on he learns that Florence and her family have managed to sell the estate and escape to Mexico.
Back in Paris he visits a cabaret show with Jeanine where an anti-Semitic sketch with grotesque looking characters is performed. A waiter holding a sign looks for Mr. Klein because a man has asked for him at the reception desk but by the time Klein arrives the stranger, whose description fits that of the doppelgänger, has vanished. Unable to track the mysterious second Klein and prove to the authorities that he is the victim of a bad joke the authorities request all sorts of proof of his non-Jewish ancestry - which seems hard to come by. When Pierre manages to sell Klein’s apartment and issues him with a fake passport that sees Robert Klein boarding a train to freedom he has a change of heart halfway through the journey and instead returns to Paris… a fatal mistake as it turns out.
The ending can be described as “what goes round comes round” when Robert Klein - despite his new identity - is rounded up by the police and sees himself pushed into a boxcar destined for Auschwitz… still certain that he will find the doppelgänger Klein and thus can return a free man while a frantic Pierre shouts after him that he finally has managed to obtain the very documents which prove his non-Jewish ancestry. The real irony is that the same Jewish man who begrudgingly had to sell his painting to Klein at the beginning of the film is now standing right behind him as the train leaves for the concentration camp – implying that Robert Klein – the previously cold-hearted arts dealer – has now become as one with his unfortunate clients: a human being and victim hunted down by a fanatical political regime.
Of course, American-born director Joseph Losey was himself no stranger to witch-hunts when, during the 1950s, he was blacklisted by Hollywood and the House of Un-American Activities Committee for his Communist leanings. This made him the perfect candidate for directing this dark tale of political paranoia and Kafka-esque nightmare. Together with his star Alain Delon he collaborated on a masterpiece that won four Césars (one for Best Film, the second for Best Director, the third for Best Actor and the fourth for Best Production Design).
Celebrating the 45th anniversary of this classic French thriller, Studiocanal proudly presents MR. KLEIN fully restored in 4K on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. Bonus features include Introduction by Jean-Baptiste Yhoret, MR. KLEIN revisited by Michel Ciment and interview with Henri Lanoe.