It is the year 1942, the time of WWII. The setting is Paris, France which is now Nazi occupied. The Nazi government is conducting 'routine' checks including humiliating physical full body check-ups to determine the ethnicity of almost all the 'suspected' residents in Paris. Jews are being discriminated against. The situation is tense, unstable and the Jewish community of Paris is trying to flee after selling off their possessions because they may soon be transported to Germany.....
...'Oh no...Not yet another WWII film revolving around the Nazis and the Jews and the holocaust', you might say! Well you couldn't be more wrong. The above situation merely acts as a backdrop to this intriguing primary plot, the summary of which briefly follows.
Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is a well-to-do law-abiding Frenchman and Art Dealer. He is taking full advantage of the situation of the Jews and making a considerable profit out of their possessions which he buys cheap from them because they are forced to sell. He is mostly indifferent to the political situation or the plight of the Jewish people and is enjoying his carefree life in his comfortable home, waking up with his girlfriend Jeanine (Juliet Berto) by his side, each morning!
Everything changes one day, when he finds a Jewish newspaper delivered to his doorstep! The name is his, the address is his, but he knows that he hasn't subscribed to the paper. Initial visits to the office of the newspaper and the Prefecture of the Police, make it clear that there is another Robert Klein, his namesake, who is Jewish and yet he is clueless as to how a mistake of this magnitude regarding mixing up of the postal addresses could be made. Such a thing could get him into trouble, after all, considering the situation!
Things start to get out of hand when he soon learns that this Jewish namesake of his isn't really to be seen anywhere....that our Robert Klein is the only Robert Klein that seems to be in the eye of the government and others; that he even bears a slight resemblance to this man and worst of all...he may soon be wanted by the police! Mails addressed to this other Klein keep appearing at our Klein's doorstep. Sure enough, the police are soon on his trail; he is a suspected Jew and he soon finds himself in a desperate situation where he has to prove that he is a full-blooded Catholic Frenchman and not the Jewish Robert Klein that the Police are after!
The rest of the film follows Klein and his obsessive quest in which he must find his 'double' with whatever handful of clues he has, get some answers and free himself from the burden which is not his!
Joseph Losey knows he is directing a thriller, yet does a brilliant job of storytelling by steering clear of the run-of-the-mill and makes sure his product is unique and a definite breed apart from the crowd. So what we have is a part mystery-thriller, part psychological drama that manages to be quite a nail-biter in spite of the slow pace. So don't expect any conspicuous jump-start moments, sudden twists in the narrative or anything of that sort. Sure, there are twists..there have to be! But the beauty of "Mr. Klein" lies in the fact that these twists have been infused in the narrative in the most subtle fashion and don't appear as the usual "bolts from the sky" which is the kind of narrative device usually embraced by most movie-goers. Losey creates a perfect atmosphere full of anxiety in this game of cat-and-mouse that initially doesn't seem to get anywhere but is definitely interesting nonetheless. The feeling of the doppelganger being very close at hand prevails throughout, making for some fine edge-of-the-seat moments. Some scenes have an almost dream-like quality with palatial mansions standing alone on some remote outskirts inhabited by strange families; the empty apartment supposedly inhabited by the other Klein, fresh from some recent activity; the dark, deserted corners of the streets; the mysterious phone calls from across the street.....all shot wonderfully by cinematographer Gerry Fisher. Throughout the events that unfold we keep asking ourselves, just as the protagonist seems to be asking himself...Is there really another Robert Klein? Or is this some part of a setup by someone who has a grudge against our Klein? Is the quest going to conclude anywhere at all...or is it just a wild goose chase?
Alain Delon proves that he is not merely a good-looking dude by delivering a magnificent performance as Robert Klein. Watch him showcase his masterful acting chops as his initial carefree attitude turns to fear, his frustrations mount up when all clues seem to lead him to a dead end. Check out his display of a multitude of emotions, when little by little he starts becoming aware of his impending doom.
Michael Lonsdale lends an excellent supporting hand as Robert's lawyer and good friend, Pierre who does his best to help Robert out of his predicament.
Other memorable supporting acts include Jeanne Moreau as Florence Suzanne Flon as the Concierge and Louis Seigner as Klein's father.
"Mr. Klein" deserves to be watched by anyone who is in the mood for some serious, cerebral cinema. If you are someone who would rather watch a fast-paced action packed thriller instead, then give this a skip. But if you are like me and have the patience and the taste for a slow-burning yet ultimately rewarding cinematic experience, then "Mr. Klein" is a film for you. It will have you transfixed throughout its almost two hours running time right up to its unforgettable ending that will leave you speechless.....!