DIRECTOR: Joseph Losey | WRITERS: Franco Solinas, Fernando Morandi, Costa-Gravas | CAST: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Bergé, Julet Berto, Jean Bouise, Suzanne Flon, Massimo Girotti, Michael Lonsdale, Michel Aumont | France
The title character in Monsieur Klein has a problem: someone has stolen his identity. Although irritating under the best of circumstances, it is orders of magnitude worse to be the victim of identity theft by someone who is making a mark as a Jewish saboteur in the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied France. The real Robert Klein is a Gentile art dealer who is making a handsome profit off Jews who are selling their family heirlooms in desperation; the irony is that he is unable to provide proof to the police that all four of his grandparents were Christians which would prove he is not a Jew and definitely not the Jewish saboteur they’re hunting. Or so he thinks.
The premise, therefore, is a Kafkaesque suspense mystery (who is the real Robert Klein? who is the false one? even, is our Robert Klein who and what he says he is?), but Losey and his screenwriters were unable to deliver. We never get a sense of the life-threatening danger Klein is in; there is no real sense of desperation or panic. Likewise, the Kafkaesque or even Pirandellian question of identity isn’t fully engaged. There are also historical inaccuracies that gnawed at me: the climax of the film takes place during an infamous historical event that is especially notorious for having taken place during a brutally hot July (the Nazi round-up of Jews at the Vélodrome d’Hiver in July 1942); in Monsieur Klein people are dressed as though it were the dead of winter. Klein easily travels by train to places that would have been totally impossible at the time. And I can’t believe that a cabaret in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942 would produce an anti-Semitic entertainment featuring drag queens (not female impersonators: these are full out drag queens) and the music of Gustav Mahler. If I were charitable, I’d say Losey was inspired by Visconti, but I’m not: Losey shamelessly stole imagery and ideas from Visconti’s The Damned and Death in Venice. The movie is beautifully shot, so there’s that.