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Mr. Klein

French apathy toward the plight of in-country Jews during World War II gets a measured scolding by director Joseph Losey in Mr. Klein (1976), a film that comfortably imports Kafkaesque notions into the confines of a traditional, slow-building thriller. Certainly the best of Losey's foreign-language efforts, it's also the finest work he ever did outside of his celebrated collaborations with writer Harold Pinter, displaying a visual and thematic surefootedness that too often eluded the director. The story concerns the changing fortunes of two Mr. Klein's; one, an unscrupulous collector buying priceless works of art at distressed prices from fleeing Jews (Alain Delon), the other a shadowy figure who may be steadily stealing his namesake's identity to protect himself from the occupying fascist regime. The first Klein's problems start when he begins receiving an underground Jewish newsletter, prompting the secret police to begin probing his affairs and, most troubling, his ancestry. Though Klein avers that he is wholly without Semite blood, his independent investigation into his counterpart's actions serve only to heighten the suspicions of the authorities and, eventually, his friends. He eventually comes into possession of a letter from a probable paramour named "Florence," who implores the other Mr. Klein to meet her at a nearby train station. The hunted Klein attends in his stead, and ends up getting whisked off to a house in the country where fellow travelers of some imprecise nature are hosting a secret dinner party. This brief sojourn arms Klein with more information about his apparent nemesis, but his task grows more complex as the Gestapo ratchets up their investigation into his past, demanding that he vouch for his non-Jewish lineage back several generations; thus, pitting him against the slow-grinding wheels of occupied France's totalitarian bureaucracy. Klein's single-minded pursuit to snatch back his identity from an unknown foe is a damning, if occasionally uninvolving, portrait of selfishness and cowardice in the face of brutal tyranny. Dialing down his aggressive, roughhewn charm, Delon creates in Klein a quietly unsettling depiction of a deplorable opportunist obsessed with clearing his bad name while thousands of his countrymen are carted off to concentration camps. Though Klein is not an outwardly evil man, his undaunted greediness in a fascist society makes him evil by aloof association. Losey and his co-writer Franco Solinas (Salvatore Giuliano, The Battle of Algiers) take pains to symbolize many of its main characters as birds of prey; Klein is time and again viewed as a vulture. Gerry Fisher's color cinematography is characteristically inconsistent — drab in spots, but strikingly rich and evocative in others, particularly at the country estate. Jeanne Moreau shows up in what amounts to little more than a cameo as Florence, while Michel Lonsdale turns in a sympathetic performance as Klein's attorney. Home Vision Entertainment presents Mr. Klein in a nice anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) with solid Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras include an essay from film critic Edwin Jahiel, selected filmographies of Joseph Losey and Alain Delon, and the original U.S. theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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