"Mr. Klein," now at the K-B Janus, is a mystery melodrama cooked up by director Joseph Losey and writer Franco Solinas as an uncharacteristic "serious" vehicle for Alain Delon.Cast as a wormy opportunist named Robert Klein, a fashionable art dealer in Occupied Paris who has been profiting from Jewish collectors compelled to sell at a loss, Delon gives a sincere and generally believable perforance as a pampered, unwary moral coward.
Whether this character has as much social or political significance as tendentious filmmakers like Losey and Solinas presume is another matter. Losey's direction is so mannered and inert - a succession of slow, slow pans and compositions self-consciously framing the actors against paintings and other objets d'arts - that suspense is snuffed out.
The protagonist's complacency is meant to be shaken by the discovery that he could be mistaken by the authorities for another Robert Klein, an elusive Jew who may have confused his identity deliberately with the non-Jewish Klein. Solinas never develops the ironic possibilities in this gimmicky premise.
Delon's character attempts to find his worrisome double and clarify matters with the police only to end up among the deportees headed for concentration camps when 13,000 refugee Jews in Paris were rounded up and delivered to the Germans on July 16, 1942, the date referred to in the recent French movie released here as "Black Thursday."
Klein's presence, however, among the deportees seems competely inadvertent. The story might have generated some impact if Klein's search had opened his eyes to the desperation of people he'd been exploiting and perhaps persuaded him to share their fate. Instead, his attempts to locate and contact the mysterious Klein seem like delaying actions. They ought to uncover a desperate refugee underworld that somehow affects Klein. They merely consume footage and postpone the flat ending.
History catches up with an absentminded rather than chastened or enlightened Mr. Klein.
Unlike the character played by Vitorio De Sica in "General Della Rovere," (or Betty Davis in "Jezebel" for that matter), the Delon character develops no heroic dimension in the face of historical adversity. He doesn't qualify as a significant villain or victim either. His allegorical portfolio is empty. Do the filmmakers really mean to imply that it serves Klein right when he gets accidentally deported? Surely that fate didn't serve anyone right, their pathetic excuse for a whipping boy included.
Like "Black Thursday," "Mr. Klein" neglects to clarify the nature of the political tragedy it exploits of feeble storytelling purposes. The Jewish refugees in Paris were sacreficed as part of a tradeoff between the French and Germans, who agreed not to insist on the roundup of Fench Jews. Neither film betrays any awareness of this fact.
Losey's style approaches such mandarin detachment that one is compelled to wonder if he still has ordinary human contacts or communes only with Cinema. "Mr. Klein" is afflicted with the same kind of stilted pictorialism that immoblizes Claude Goretta's "The Lacemaker." I expected Losey to append an epilogue congratulating himself for a "painterly" sensibility in the same outrageous way Goretta did.
These are not moving pictures in either sense of the term. On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine better textbook examples of what results when directors contrive monuments to their own formalism.