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Mr. Klein

Mr. Klein(1976)

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At one point in the film, our protagonist Mr. Klein yells out in frustration: "This has nothing to do with me!" Ironically, "this" Mr. Klein (1976) has everything to do with the man who plays Monseur Klein, the enigmatic French actor, Alain Delon. As co-producer, he receives a full-screen credit alongside the director, Joseph Losey (1909-1984), so that just the words "Losey-Delon" fill the frame at the end of the film, which is perhaps fitting given that Delon claims this his favorite performance. (Losey himself quotes the actor, in Michel Ciment's book Conversations with Losey, as having said, during the shooting of the film, "This is going to be the best performance I ever gave in my life. It's going to be the best picture you ever made in your life.") Even within the context of the story itself, while Mr. Klein may be the subject of a mistaken identity in Nazi occupied France, it is undoubtedly his story. No matter how you cut it, this definitely has everything to do with Mr. Klein. But, of course, the question remains: who is Mr. Klein?

The combination of Nazi politics and identity issues are made clear from the very beginning when a frightened and naked woman is given a callous physical inspection by a doctor who quickly ascertains various "Semitic" features, and from here we venture out into the streets where signs state "No Jews Allowed." We're in Paris during the Occupation, year 1942, and when we first see Mr. Klein he is ruthlessly buying art from a desperate Jew that he knows has no time to haggle over price. Mr. Klein lives the good life, with a beautiful girlfriend, nice clothes, a luxurious house, and everything seems to be going his way until....a Jewish newspaper addressed to Mr. Klein arrives at his doorstep. As our Mr. Klein goes out of his way to redress this error, he finds himself getting deeper into trouble as his personal life crumbles away so that a face-to-face confrontation with the other Mr. Klein becomes a grand obsession.

Annette Insdorf, in her book about films and the Holocaust, INDELIBLE SHADOWS, writes that "Although Pauline Kael dismissed Mr. Klein by claiming "the atmosphere is heavily pregnant, with no delivery," the film's richness can be discovered through close analysis. For example, the credits unfold over a tapestry of a vulture with an arrow through its heart - an image whose meaning will be revealed at an auction a few scenes later, and whose import permeates the film. The auctioneer interprets the canvas as representing indifference, followed by cruelty, arrogance, greed, and finally remorse, and he points out the Cabalistic origin of the signs. By invoking Jewish mysticism, the film suggests not only the concrete aesthetic significance of the tapestry, but the symbolic component of these attributes: they describe France - incarnated at the outset by Klein - in its movement from indifference to remorse vis-a-vis the Jews."

Stylistically, viewers should also look at how Losey, while shooting in color, manages an aesthetic that hews closely to the stark contrast one normally sees in a film that is shot in black-and-white (the medium he originally preferred for Mr. Klein ). Also, Losey's personal experience on McCarthy's black-list certainly informed his ability to create an atmosphere where fear governs the streets with healthy portions of the Kafkaesque. In Ciment's book the director says that, in regards to one pivotal scene, in reality, "all the people packed into the stadium were wearing yellow stars. But in my film only about 25 per cent are, as I wanted people to also think of the stadiums in Chile and elsewhere. There was an incident in the stadium at Santiago which I tried to transfer to 1942: a Chilean musician had his guitar taken away from him and his hands were cut off and he continued, with the blood pouring from him, to sing a revolutionary song. I shot a similar scene with a Jew whose violin was snatched from him and smashed and whose hands were trampled on - But it jarred with the rest of the film. The emotion it produced was too strong in the context."

Despite Losey's best attempts at making Mr. Klein a subtle examination of class identity, it still made many people uncomfortable. And, as Edwin Jahiel writes in his liner notes, "when Mr. Klein was released in France, it met with indifference or hostility, no doubt because viewers felt touchy about certain aspects of how the French were depicted during the German occupation. This touchiness may explain why the Cesar nominations it did garner ignored Italian scriptwriter Franco Solinas (THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS), who was responsible for the "anti-French" story."

Home Vision Entertainment's dvd release of Mr. Klein presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, includes filmographies for Losey and Delon, the U.S. theatrical trailer, and liner notes by film critic and cinema studies professor Edwin Jahiel.

For more information about Mr. Klein, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order Mr. Klein, go to TCM Shopping.

by Pablo Kjolseth