Directed by Joseph Losey and written by Franco Solinas, Fernando Morandi and Costa-Gavras, in Nazi-occupied Paris, the immoral art dealer, Robert Klein, leads a life of luxury, until a copy of a Jewish newspaper brings him to the attention of the police, linking him with a mysterious doppelgänger. Starring: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Bergé, Juliet Berto, Massimo Girotti and Michael Lonsdale.
If you’re looking for a clean cut mystery with nice tidy answers then this probably isn’t the film for you. Mr. Klein is much more concerned with the questions that it raises and their exploration than it is their ultimate destination. It traverses the issue of identity with a deft hand, its intentions are clear but it moves in a slow, purposeful and building manner, to let the discussion deepen as the situation becomes more complicated. One of the very interesting things about how it frames its story is the use of discomfort, it sets the tone with a harsh, uncomfortable opening then adds touches throughout to keep that edge. Another is that while the character or Robert Klein (Delon) is arguably a bad person, taking advantage of helpless people for his own financial gain, you can’t help but want to follow his story. It manages to make you ultimately invested in the journey and not the character which shows a level of quality to its writing that is rarely matched.
Before diving into the actual direction and cinematography of this film, you have to acknowledge the reason for its re-release, receiving a 4K restoration and they did a fantastic job of it. The visual has a stunning colour, its so wonderfully textured and rich, it brings out both the cold reality of its story and the lavish contrast with Klein’s chosen surroundings. It is of such a high quality that you can’t help but to be drawn in by it and Joseph Losey’s brilliant direction only doubles down on its entrancing qualities. There’s an Orson Welles type quality to the way that the film moves, subtly dark and increasingly dangerous, it can be harsh at times and curious at others. It holds a large sense of mystery, tinged with a hint of seedy, leaving you never quite sure where you stand or how far it’s willing to go.
Alain Delon pushes the boundary of how close to entirely dislikeable he can reach with Robert, it’s fascinating to watch because while you never genuinely like him, he holds an undefinable intrigue which keeps you hooked. Juliet Berto may not get too much time to delve into her character but in the brief time she does, she gives the impression of more layers hiding beneath the flighty exterior. Jeanne Moreau similarly only gets a chance to appear briefly but succeeds in bringing as much mystery, intelligence and charm as you’d expect from such a talented actress.
Mr. Klein takes an unusual perspective on a World War II story, asking endless questions about identity and privilege, and letting its audience figure them out for themselves rather than handing you the answers. The visual is rich in its texture and a delight to watch unfold especially when mixed with the mystery, depth and complexity of Losey’s direction. Delon leads with a strange mix of curiosity, self-assuredness and cynicism, keeping you locked in without ever being able to decide on your feelings for him. It’s a film that opens a necessary discussion and one that will linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.