Mr. Klein (1976)

“The subject could well be a member of the Semitic race.”,

It’s WWII, and Mr. Klein (Alain Delon) is an affluent Parisian who lives–like a parasite–off the misfortunes of the Jewish population. He’s a well-heeled collector, and financially strapped Jews hoping to escape the Nazis, sell their treasures at a fraction of their worth to Klein. From his home–stuffed with paintings, jewelry, and various objects of art, Klein pretends to commiserate with his financially distressed Jewish visitors, but nonetheless, he drives home a hard bargain. To him, WWII is a profitable enterprise, and if some people suffer … oh well, at least he benefits.

One day, however, Klein’s carefree existence comes to a grinding halt when he receives a Jewish newspaper addressed to him. He sets out to correct this mistake, and promptly becomes entangled in a case of mistaken identity and muddled bureaucracy. Once he’s labeled as a Jew, he discovers that it’s not so easy to become unlabeled, and suddenly just like all the Jews he’s looted, he too becomes a victim.

The film’s tension builds as Klein’s dilemma intensifies. This is a time when many tried to deny or hide their Jewish heritage, so his story that there’s another Mr. Klein somewhere else in Paris falls on deaf ears. This is also a time when Jews were rounded up en masse for shipment to the death camps. And as Klein cannot shake Jewish identification, he becomes increasingly more paranoid and obsessed with finding the real Mr. Klein.

Mr. Klein provides a different view of the eradication of Jews in WWII, and examines how one man–a parasite–tries desperately to avoid being labeled a Jew. And while this film is essentially Mr. Klein’s story, there’s also a subtle larger implication here regarding that portion of society that managed to ignore the genocide taking place under their noses. Unfortunately, at times the plot is confusing and this detracts from the film’s overall message. Directed by Joseph Losey the film is in French with English subtitles, and the DVD print looks gorgeous. If you enjoy Mr. Klein, I also recommend Dr. Petiot.

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