Monday, September 9, 2019

Mr. Klein

At the beginning of Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein  (1976), currently in revival at Film Forum, the Jewishness of a woman’s identity is being ascertained. The concentration camps are immediately invoked, even though the exam takes place in a Parisian doctor’s office. She’s stripped naked. Her mouth is pried open along with her nostrils. However, there’s a subtlety even in this garish scene. As she dresses and prepares to leave, she asks about payment. Vichy France was complicit and she’s a metaphor for the French who will pay the price to maintain their racial purity. This perverse notion immediately appears in the second scene of the film. Alain Delon plays Robert Klein an art dealer who’s profiting on the misfortunes of Jews who are forced to sell their paintings at bargain prices in order to raise money for their escape (how prescient Losey was in dealing with the subject of the wartime exploitation of Jewish collectors!) The art objects need to be evaluated, but Klein, is a non-Jew whose status is compromised by his name. The fact that in his haggling he himself represents the caricature of a Jew presented in a later cabaret scene underscores the labile nature of the nomenclature. Unresolved mysteries like that of the cell operated by the Jewish aristocrat (Jeanne Moreau) proliferate in an often needlessly reticulated way. However, the movie is ultimately an elaborate essay on identity (it's significant that the camera is continually panning as if looking for something). Losey’s earlier film The Servant (l963) famously used a convex mirror as the image in which Dirk Bogart gazed at his own apparition. The switching of roles, in that case between master and servant, is a device that’s employed throughout Mr. Klein with Losey's central figure eventually finding himself a victim of the very system in which he once reveled and profited. 

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