The city of Paris, January 1942, in the third year of the war and under the occupation of the German forces, Monsieur Robert Klein cannot help but be aware of the situation yet other than the inconvenience of the curfew which covers all not only has he avoided the attention of the authorities he has actually profited, an art dealer who has made it known he will make modest cash offers on valuable paintings offered to him by the Jewish population of the city, desperate to leave.
Transactions of anonymity, as clinical and dispassionate as the doctor who examines a woman as though she were livestock before confirming his opinion that “she could belong to the Semitic Race,” thus dooming her as wholly as if he had administered a lethal injection, M. Klein’s world is disrupted by a misdelivered item of mail, a copy of the newspaper Jewish Information.
Unsure if it is a mistake, a message, or a warning he reports it to the Prefecture of Police, drawing the very attention he had sought to avoid, before undertaking his own investigation which leads him to realises there is a second Monsieur Robert Klein within the city, one who lives a very different life which strangely parallels his own, an elusive enigma who matches his description yet remains unseen.
A director whose acclaim and success offered him no immunity, Joseph Losey was obliged to leave his own home country, blacklisted following the McCarthy hearings for his associations with Communism, settling in London where he made The Servant and The Go-Between and also working in Europe where he made Mr. Klein, shaped by the eye of an outsider, one of first film productions to directly address the occupation of France and the scandalous collaboration of some, either to survive or advance their position, leading up to the events of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of July 1942 when the remaining Jewish families were arrested en masse prior to deportation.
Starring Plein Soleil’s Alain Delon as Robert Klein, his pursuit of his alter-ego across the city exposes him to scenes of gluttony, mockery and persecution which he views dispassionately even as it disturbs and upsets those around him yet ultimately remains futile, Losey and screenwriters Franco Solinas and Fernando Morandi suggesting Mr. Klein may be hunting a former self or a lost identity, even the possibility of who he might have been if circumstances had been different, a possibility to which he even now remains indignantly oblivious.
Originally released in 1976 when both the film and Losey won César Awards, Mr. Klein has been restored from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative for StudioCanal, ambiguous yet distressing as it spirals into an inescapable fate, the special features including an introduction by Jean-Baptiste Thoret who regards the film as Losey’s masterpiece, an interview with film editor Henri Lanoe who himself lived in occupied Paris, and an appraisal of Losey and his work by critic Michel Ciment who considers the abstraction, surrealism and realism of the film and the emotional distance of the title character.
Mr. Klein is available on DVD and Blu-ray from StudioCanal now