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  Mr. Klein Mistake In Identity
Year: 1976
Director: Joseph Losey
Stars: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Bergé, Juliet Berto, Jean Bouise, Suzanne Flon, Massimo Girotti, Michael Lonsdale, Michel Aumont, Roland Bertin, Jean Champion, Etienne Chicot, Magali Clément, Gérard Jugnot, Hermine Karagheuz
Genre: Drama, Thriller, WarBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is Paris in 1942 and the height of the Nazi Occupation, where to be Jewish is not recommended, giving rise to a racket where doctors can be paid to offer certificates to "prove" that French citizens do not have all the physical characteristics of Jews, and therefore will not be carted off to concentration camps. Not something that bothers the Catholic art dealer Robert Klein (Alain Delon) too much, if anything it's good for business as there are some highly prized items about being sold at knock down prices. But there's someone who will prove a fly in Klein's ointment...

Although quite which Mr. Klein the title refers to is a mystery, and that kind of conundrum is what informs this wartime tale that for many represented the very best of both its director Joseph Losey and its star Delon. Don't go into this expecting, as the Klein we follow does, that all your questions will be answered, for the overriding purpose to the film appeared to be create the oppressive atmosphere of the Occupation and the passivity of the French public who allowed the Nazis to commit such crimes against humanity. No matter that the Jews and others considered enemies of the far right were being dreadfully victimised, it was none of their neighbours' business.

With that less than flattering light it's little wonder the film was not best received in France even with its Cesars, but the World War Two era had always been a thorny subject there, and while watching this you're in no doubt that deporting Jews and members of the left who would oppose the Nazis to their almost certain death was a bad thing, there was not much else that you could be sure of. This was all deliberate on the part of Losey, rarely one keen on spelling things out once he had hit his artistic stride, and Delon was only too happy to go along with him, giving nothing away but his character's dogged determination to fathom what was really going on.

In its way this was a detective story with no resolution. What happens to Klein is that after one transaction with a Jewish man hoping to drum up enough money to flee France, he notices a newspaper lying on the doormat to his apartment, and tells him that he's dropped it - but the man already has one, and apparently this Jewish publication has deliberately been delivered to Klein, as his name is on it. He quickly works out that there is another man who looks just like him with the same name, but is of a different religion, and he becomes obsessed with identifying him as the authorities start sniffing around.

They think Klein is hiding his actual Judaism, when he knows there has been a case of mistaken identity, yet the more he tries to take the heat off himself and onto this impostor, the more the waters of Nazism rise until they're in danger of drowning him. The other Klein seems to be some kind of Resistance member, leading the protagonist into some conspiratorial depths as all the while he secures the papers and documents that will prove he is who he says he is, and to call the mood of this film sinister and suffocating is something of an understatement. Yet after a while you begin to wonder if a puzzle without a solution was quite the correct manner to go about depicting these dark days, as if there's one thing you should be definite about it was the perils of the Nazis, and Losey and Delon (who co-produced), along with their writers, prefer to keep things murky. The ending, where Klein's obsession with satisfying his curiosity leads to a baffling downfall, is suitably disturbing. Music by Egisto Macchi and Pierre Porte.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Joseph Losey  (1909 - 1984)

Cerebral, at times pretentious, American director, from the theatre. His American career (The Boy with Green Hair, a remake of M, The Prowler) was short-lived due to the Hollywood anti-Communist blacklist, and Losey escaped to Britain.

Almost a decade of uninspiring work followed, but come the sixties he produced a series of challenging films: The Criminal, Eva, King and Country, Secret Ceremony, The Romantic Englishwoman and Mr. Klein, and Harold Pinter collaborations The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. He even directed science fiction like The Damned and Modesty Blaise. Not always successful - he also has turkeys like Boom and The Assassination of Trotsky among his credits - but his best films have a cult following with a particularly European flavour.

 
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