Tuesday 19 December 2023

Monsieur Klein [1976]

 Monsieur Klein, Joseph Losey’s frighteningly brilliant pièce de résistance, provided – as claustrophobic political thriller, darkly surreal fable and bleak historical document – a ferocious examination of French culpability during the Nazi Occupation. It accomplished that through spare and haunting interpretation of Kafka’s prophetic masterpiece The Trial, wherein its eponymous protagonist – a smug, amoral, apolitical, apathetic and wealthy art-dealer who cynically profits from people’s misfortunes, and played with chilling aplomb by Alain Delon – becomes a victim himself on account of mistaken identity; and, spurred as much by his self-destructive obsession as the climate of paranoia and persecution, he’s eventually crushed by the monstrous tyranny of the Nazi bureaucratic apparatus. Losey had himself faced ugly witch-hunts due to his fearless left-wing politics, which’d forced him into exile, and his distressing personal experiences imbued the film with deeper meanings. Two intensely disturbing scenes set the context – pseudo-medical assessment of a middle-aged woman’s Semitic physical features; and Klein’s exploitation of a Jewish man’s desperation by purchasing a priceless artwork at a pittance – which powerfully foreshadowed the subsequent proceedings. The core plot is set in motion when a Jewish newspaper gets delivered to his doorstep. He realizes that there’s another person with the same name – albeit, a Jew, and potentially member of the Resistance too, who remains an enigma till the end – and things go downhill from there with fatalist certainty. The film – magnificently photographed in washed visuals which complemented its existential dread, and also starring Jeanne Moreau in an arresting support role and Juliet Berto in a cameo – culminated with the harrowing Vel' d'Hiv' Roundup in 1942 during which over 13,000 Parisian Jews were deported by cattle cars to Auschwitz for their mass murder.

Director: Joseph Losey

Genre: Drama/Political Thriller/Existential Thriller/Psychological Drama/Mystery

Language: French

Country: France

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