Double Trouble

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.

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18 Responses to “Double Trouble”

  1. A very underrated film, very much of it time, and by that I mean the Seventies not the time which it depicts (late Thirties?). Totally agree with you about the visual handsomeness this film possesses, in all the aspects you touch upon. The story is compelling, and Delon’s performance is memorable. His part calls for coldness, and who better for that? But the cinematography is what stays with you, there were a number of films made in that decade that reflect the same sensibility, THE CONFORMIST, THE TENANT, the GODFATHER and its sequel… and I know that there are others, but these are the ones that come readily to mind.

  2. More than merely underrated. M. Klein is the greatest achievement of both its director and its star. Of all the films of “Le Retro” this is the most serious. Having fled the U.S for his life and the UK for tax purposes (the noble and the ignoble) Losey goes right to the dark beating hear of his THIRD country. To say that Alain Delon has a “dark side” is like saying Fred Astaire can dance. Delon isthe only actor who can play a character like this one simply by showing up on the set and having the camera pointed at him. Recently there’s been a Kristin Scott-Thomas movie (I forget the title) about “La Rafle.” Bit it can’t compare with this one. Berto is most definitely there to evoke Rivette, but its Moreau who gets the most Rivettian scene. Above all there’s the ending which is among the greatest of all time. Losey takes us there — to the trains. It’s clear what Klein is thinking “I’ve escaped at last.” Of course he hasn’t. That’s his tragi-comedy. Claude Lanzmann’s unbearably pretentious Shoah couldn’t do what Losey and Delon do here. It’s only peer on this particular level is of course Polanski’s The Pianist.

  3. It starts of with a casual cruelty and it builds to vindictiveness and malicious self-destruction. The last scene is the culmination of the protagonist’s unwillingness to accept reality and leave vanity aside. I’m a huge Losey fan, starting with the Prowler…..

  4. The film’s period is early 40s, the occupation, but the style is redolent of the 30s and The Conformist, surely an influence.

    As explicit as the ending seems, it’s also restrained — Losey takes us to a holding camp and a death train, but stops short of the Auschwitz showers, unlike Spielberg. A huge risk, taking a slightly surreal doppelganger story and placing it in the foreground of the Holocaust, but it comes off. Does Delon represent the willful blindness of the occupied countries who went along with the genocide without ever visualizing it in their minds? Could be.

  5. My appreciation of Losey began with The Big Night, a film with some very disturbing moments. But JL never shied away from uncomfortable subject matter.

  6. The Prowler, M and The Big Night are sensational, with the latter film leading the pack. In a way, despite the genre elements of his early films, he was a fully-fledged arthouse auteur from his first breath.

  7. Before making he Biug Night Losey knew it was clear his days in the U.S. were numbered — if he was looking for a career. I’ve always thought of the film as Losey giving the country a good reason fo throwing him out. His disgust with the system vibrates in every frame. Years later the film’s star — Drew Barrymore’s father — told him (sobbing) that the FBI had ordered him ot “keep an eye on” Losey and report back to them . Losey was of course only too happy to tell Barrymore he udnerstood and everyrhign was OK.

    As I believe I’ve mentioned Losey was set to direct a little Western called High Noon.

    But thn he decided to get out of Dodge.

    And now, wildly off-topic.

  8. Scorsese plays a thinly-veiled version of Losey in Guilty by Suspicion. But that movie’s a typical Hollywood snow-job of politics – Abraham Polonsky backed out of involvement in the script when it became clear that director Irwin Winkler wanted an “innocent victim” hero rather than a man persecuted for his beliefs.

  9. Each of the screengrabs could be a painting; this is going to the top of the list.

    Whether it was his personal life or his artistic interests, Delon really did make an astonishing number of films in which he is a profoundly unsympathetic star. Melville was impressed by his ability to behave as a star when acting and then turn around a moment later to start behaving like a producer when dealing with Belmondo, who was reluctant to promote the film Borsalino.

    Still, Melville being Melville he also complained about Delon’s tendency to go AWOL, either literally or figuratively, to deal with the many crises in his life.

  10. FYI There are two Delons in Godard’s Nouvelle Vague as well.

    One drowns the other halfway through the action.

  11. In contrast to Delon’s plentitude of dark roles, Visconti cast him as a virtual saint in Rocco and His Brothers.

  12. Melville’s story about casting Delon in Le Samourai is HILARIOUS. He presented the script to Delon at his home, said he’d written it with Delon in mind, and hoped he’d do it. Delon looked at the title, then led Melville through to the bedroom (dismiss that thought from your filthy, filthy mind) where upon the wall hung a samurai sword.

    Done deal.

    Delon has the kind of face that isn’t made for ordinary virtue or vice, only extraordinary. I guess it makes sense that he’s played so many doppelgangers.

  13. That’s a pretty good one. I just returned the Rui Nogueira book to the library so the details are sketchy, but I think there was a precursor to that story too, where Melville’s first approach to Delon was rebuffed by an excuse-filled type-written letter from the star. Melville completely dismissed the missive, and invited himself over.

    Speaking of all things Delon, just yesterday, I came across Kent Jones’s praise for Jacques Deray’s 1969 La Piscine, which he’d seen in revival earlier this year. I’m not a huge fan of other Deray movies, which seem altogether too blunt, but I might have to finally catch up with that one.

  14. It seems to be Deray’s best, aided by lusciously sunny settings and the lusciously sunny Romy Schneider. It’s almost too gorgeous to look at.

  15. Don’t forget a lusciously sunny Jane Birkin!

    La Piscine was a big hit when it was released. After Plein Soleil French audiences longed to see Delon drown Maurice Ronet again.

  16. I would ask, what about the lusciously sunny Alain Delon, but things are already getting out of hand here.

    Jacques Deray wouldn’t have had much of a career without Delon’s continued assistance!

  17. Sorry I missed Late Films…my excuse is that my brother got married.

    Losey is someone who I have great deal of appreciation for. M. KLEIN is a great film, one of the definitive portraits of the Occupation. The sheer sense of dread in the air of the film is chilling. I saw THE BIG NIGHT recently, one of the most underrated films noir ever made. And actually one of the most honest father-son movies, its films noir as coming-of-age drama.

  18. The fact that the film’s villain looks a lot like the older Losey fascinated me when I saw it. A deepening of the father-son anxieties explored elsewhere is suggested.

    If anybody started writing anything and didn’t finish on time, let me know and I’ll still link!

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