There are two Robert Kleins (one’s a Jew) in WWII Nazi-occupied France in this slow-burning, finely-tuned Kafkaesque wrong identity mystery-thriller, starring a paranoid Alain Delon.
Cast: Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Francine Berge
Plot: In Nazi-occupied Paris, the immoral art dealer, Robert Klein, leads a life of luxury, until a copy of a Jewish newspaper brings him to the attention of the police, linking him with a mysterious doppelgänger.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Wrong Man; Racial Discrimination; WWII
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Despite being one of the most highly-acclaimed works of Joseph Losey, I wasn’t entirely engaged by Mr Klein, though it is ultimately a haunting work about racial prejudice and paranoia set in the context of WWII.
We are in Nazi-occupied France and the French police are on the alert in rounding up Jews (a point of controversy surely for the French), who are facing increasing discrimination in the city.
Robert Klein, played by Alain Delon, takes advantage by buying off paintings at a fraction of their value from Jews who are in a hurry to pack their bags. That is, until the French police come knocking on his door.
Apparently, there is another mysterious Robert Klein in the city, who is Jewish. With his own racial identity under scrutiny, Delon’s Robert Klein must find a way to solve the ‘wrong man’ conundrum before he is implicated in a Kafkaesque nightmare.
“I must prove I’m not the man the police are looking for.”
Much of Losey’s work holds its power because of its harrowing historical context even though the story is fictional. The film isn’t always compelling and while it is slow-burning (which is fine), it sometimes takes too long to get us deeply involved in the plight of the titular character.
As Delon’s character clutches at straws in his pursuit of his elusive namesake, the weight of history begins to push him down the rabbit hole.
As a mystery-thriller, there is a fine sense of atmosphere, though it is nowhere as potent as, say, the works of Jean-Pierre Melville, particularly his masterpiece, Army of Shadows (1969).
As Robert Klein spirals into a mental state of paranoia and agitation, the film gets better and less convoluted. Its climax is frightening as the proverbial noose on the neck gets tighter and tighter. Perhaps I might like the film more with a revisit a few years down the road.