Alain Delon stars in Joseph Losey's dark wartime drama set in Paris. Optimum UK R2 DVD from the Joseph Losey Collection.
Written by Franco Solinas, Oscar nominated for La Battaglia di Algeri (1966), the setting is wartime Paris, July 1942, in the run up to the Rafle du Vélodrome d'Hiver, the organised round-up of thousands of Jews for deportation to Germany and the concentration camps - but rather than focusing on the plight of the Jewish families, it focuses on a Frenchman and a mysterious case of mistaken identity.
Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is an artdealer in wartime Paris. With the crackdown on Jews by the French authorities, he has found a lucrative market in buying paintings from impoverished Semitic families at much lower than market rates. His problems start when he receives a copy of a Jewish newspaper under his door and begins to suspect that there might be another man with the same name, but tracking down this man proves to be a difficult task and the closer Robert gets to his namesake, the closer the police seem to be moving in to him and the more obsessed he becomes in finding this mysterious man...
Playing out like a nightmare, Mr Klein is a wonderfully crafted descent into madness for the lead character, although the script never turns into the all out surreality that one might expect from a Joseph Losey film, instead it is remniscent of dystopian classic Brazil (1984), where the closer the man seems to get to his target, the deeper he seems to be inadvertantly pulling himself into trouble - until by the end he seems completely powerless to stop what is going to happen. Entirely dialogue based and eshewing temptation for any wartime action scenes, pacing is certainly on the sedate side and Klein's searching and investigations which take up most of the runtime could probably have been compressed into a couple of minute montage in a fast paced action picture. Fortunately Solinas' script uses the slow pacing to provide plenty of characterisation and so by the time Klein tries to flee Paris, there is genuine tension and excitement about whether or not he will make it.
The historical aspects of the film are treated with a particular subtlety - the very opening of the film shows a woman being "measured" by a doctor to check for signs of Judaic racial features, a scene that is unconnected to the storyline, but provides an effective way of letting us know the situation at the time and it assumes that the audience will not need any more information to know the background. The storyline itself is punctuated with eerie shots of the French police preparing the vélodrome like a cattle market. Notably, the script never overly condemns the French for their role and it never delves into the "obeying orders" debate that surrounds the whole incident, but it does make it clear that it was the French behind the round-up and not German soldiers or Gestapo.
Joseph Losey provides another powerful directoral display and is aided by an obviously well funded production that allows for some very good looking period scenes in Paris and in particular the large scale of the Vélodrome sequence. Losey's trademark attention to detail and in particular sound design are all present - the shots of the French police preparing the roundup are largely conducted in silence, with just an ominous musical soundtrack.
Alain Delon was behind the production of Mr Klein and so the role seems to have been perfectly written around him, allowing him one of his very best dramatic performances. Second billed Jeanne Moreau makes only a brief but memorable appearance, looking a lot more mature than in her previous Losey production, Eva (1962), but remaining attractive and seductive. A number of recognisable Euro-cinema faces appear in the rest of the cast, including Michel Aumont, Massimo Girotti and Michael Lonsdale as Klein's lawyer. Performances are very strong all round.
Mr Klein is not a Holocaust film, nor is it a mere wartime drama, it instead combines a reminder of the complicity of the French in turning over Jewish citizens to the Nazis and a dramatic visualisation of the real historical event, with a superbly written story about mistaken identity. A good showing from Joseph Losey, combined with an outstanding performance from Alain Delon in the lead role makes this film one to recommend to all art-house cinema fans.
|Anyone famous in it?||Alain Delon - French actor, best known for his lead role in the thriller Le Samouraï (1967)
Jeanne Moreau - a French actress who earlier starred in Losey's curious Eva (1962)
|Directed by anyone interesting?||Joseph Losey - American born, but forced out by the anti-communist witchhunts he worked mostly in England, with films ranging from the dark prison drama Criminal (1960) to the spy comedy Modesty Blaise (1966).|
|Any gore or violence ?||A brief shot of a battered body in a morgue.|
|Any sex or nudity?||A shot female nude shot during the opening medical inspection.|
|Who is it for?||A must see for fans of Losey or Delon and recommended to all art-house cinema fans.
|Visuals||Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
A strong looking print with good colours and detail and minimal grain or damage
|Audio||French mono - sounds fine throughout.|
|Subtitles||English - translate the French soundtrack.|
|Extras||This disc includes:
|Region||Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL|
|Availability||Only available as part of Optimum's Joseph Losey Collection.|
|Other regions?||Released in the US by Home Vision Entertainment, a similarly strong print but slightly softer (PAL>NTSC transfer), includes a few text notes alongside the trailer, but nothing significant. French DVD release includes no features and no English options.|
|Cuts?||Believed to be fully uncut. Print is French.|