I had two reasons for watching Joseph Losey’s MR. KLEIN, but one of them I can’t talk about. The other one is this here Late Movies Blogathon, into which the film sort-of fits, being a highlight of Losey’s final re-invention of himself as a European arthouse wizard (having been a gifted C-list Hollywood smuggler, then an ambitious British straddler of the commercial-arthouse divide). And a third reason, actually, is I’d been ignoring Losey since I did Losey Week way back, having maybe exhausted myself slightly with his glorious composition and camera movement, inscrutable humour, icy pessimism.
All are present and to the fore in MR. Klein, and it was good to see them again. Alain Delon is Klein, an art dealer in occupied Paris making a killing by buying cheap from Jews. But then a second Monsieur Klein appears on the scene — well, just offstage, actually — his life intersecting with and interfering with Delon’s in myriad ways, sparking an obsessive detective story as Delon seeks his double.
So, after SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, another film in which Delon chases/is chased by his doppelganger. His Delonganger. Doppeldelon. Whatever. This ought to be a trilogy, and somebody should make the third entry, right away. I’d vote for a version where aged, raddled Delon is persecuted by his younger self (pilfered footage from old Georges Lautner movies), the joke being that thanks to plastic surgery and heavy fog-filters it’s impossible to tell them apart.
Gerry Fisher is DoP — Losey used him a lot (ACCIDENT was Fisher’s first gig) and this is one of his loveliest films (he should be more celebrated — other work includes films for Huston, Wilder, Lester, Richardson, Lumet, Hodges), aided immensely by the happy confluence of Fisher’s lighting, Losey’s intricate camera moves, and the production design of Alexander “trop chere” Trauner, “that little wizard” as Billy Wilder called him.
There are elaborate camera moves pirouetting in spaces you’d swear were cramped locations, and brilliant use of shooting through doorways — figures appear partially eclipsed by door frames, in extreme longshot, three rooms away from where the camera observes foreground action. I could fill a post three times this length just by grabbing frames entirely at random, and they’d all be beautiful.
For a film that opens with a woman undergoing a humiliating medical exam in a doomed attempt to prove her Aryan roots, this movie is surprisingly Christmassy.
Delon is very much the man for the job, since Klein is required to be morally repellant, slippery and yet fascinating. To give Delon credit, he never shirked from playing unappealing characters in an utterly unapologetic way. Maybe he himself is so unpleasant he can’t actually tell when a protagonist is unlikable, or maybe he just doesn’t care — to give him credit again, I’ll plump for the latter.
Writer Franco Solinas has fascinating credits — this is a late film for him, alright, he only did one more — THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS pops out among all the Euro-political-thrillers. Even TEPEPA (aka BLOOD AND GUNS) is a neat, bleak political spaghetti western, with Orson Welles ffs.
A bleak, crisp, desperate film — a study of obsession, the fragility of identity, how clinical paranoia can mean not being paranoid enough. Delon, and Michel Lonsdale, are perfect for this kind of thing, as they’re compelling without being even slightly ingratiating. Juliet Berto is both radiant and jittery. A frequent Godard and Rivette muse, she died much too young.