Writers: Franco Solinas and Fernando Morandi
Director: Joseph Losey
Mistaken identity is so often a comedy trope in drama, used to disguise Shakespearean lovers or to propel an energetic farce, but Joseph Losey’s Mr Klein explores the more traumatic consequences of sharing the same name during one of the darkest periods of the Second World War. Celebrating the 45th anniversary of the film’s release in 1976, Mr Klein now receives a new 4k restoration on DVD, Blu-ray and digital release.
Art dealer Robert Klein is comfortably making a living buying paintings from Jewish neighbours eager to flee. Set in Paris in 1942, when a copy of a Jewish newspaper is delivered to his door, Klein discovers he shares his name with another local man who has mysteriously disappeared and decides to track him down. But he soon finds himself the centre of an investigation when he struggles to locate the documentation that proves his true identity.
Considered a masterpiece of post-war French cinema, Mr Klein doesn’t quite stand-up as well as it did on release, lacking a little jeopardy throughout Franco Solinas and Fernando Morandi’s screenplay that takes the character down some superfluous rabbit holes. It chooses to look away from the ways in which Klein is undermining even coasting through his life, bargaining for paintings and treating his mistress as background noise while barely noticing the context of the war until the film’s final moments.
Alain Delon’s principal character is just hard to like, not quite navigating the noirish anti-hero trope he is given and instead lacks sympathy. While the mean and moody male archetype fitted well into its 1970s context and is notable across French cinema, viewed from a twenty-first century perspective the titular Mr Klein’s attitude to women and terse behaviour doesn’t suggest a man too immersed in a battle for identity to worry about social niceties, he just seems unpleasant.
But where Joseph Losey’s film excels is in the slow introduction of concepts and political developments within that wider society that lead to the film’s poignant conclusion. As restrictions become increasingly difficult for the Jewish population of Paris, the subtle move from selling art to fund escape routes to segregated buses and eventually transportation is achieved with a slow burn approach that very subtly heightens the tension as the film and Klein’s search nears its finale.
Delon is entirely convincing as a comfortable art dealer, living in relative luxury with every need catered too. And while this character is not really one to root for, Delon takes the audience through the frustration of not being able to find his alter ego and the concomitant pressure to demonstrate his own lineage. Other characters – friends, associates, lovers and other people’s wives – appear but this is really Delon’s film.
Given a 4K restoration, this new DVD and Blu-ray release is crisp and visually rich, enhancing the darker tones of the film especially in the night sequences. Re-released within a few days of Losey’s much superior film, The Servant, Mr Klein does pale in comparison. But with a number of Extras including film analysis and interviews, it is worth revisiting for its political commentary alone.
Mr Klein is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital from 13 September.