One of the crowning achievements of blacklisted Hollywood director Joseph Losey’s European exile, the spellbinding modernist mystery Mr. Klein puts a chilling twist on the wrong-man thriller. Alain Delon delivers a standout performance as Robert Klein, a decadent art dealer in Paris during World War II who makes a tidy profit buying up paintings from his desperate Jewish clients. As Klein searches for a Jewish man with the same name for whom he has been mistaken, he finds himself plunged into a Kafkaesque nightmare in which his identity seems to dissolve and the forces of history to close in on him. Met with considerable controversy on its release for its portrayal of the real-life wrongdoings of the Vichy government, this haunting, disturbingly beautiful film shivers with existential dread as it traces a society’s descent into fascistic fear and inhumanity.
With the previous Home Vision Entertainment DVD long out-of-print, Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein makes a return to home video in North America through a new Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. Encoded at 1080p/24hz, the presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration performed by StudioCanal, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
In general, it’s a nice-looking image, the restoration having cleaned things up impeccably, all damage and marks appearing to have been erased. Details are crisp and clear and there’s a nice texture to everything, a silk robe on one character looking particularly lifelike with a nice-looking sheen on it to boot. On screen the encode also looks good and grain is mostly clean. The screen grabs show that it's not up to par with a couple of other recent Criterion releases (like Written on the Wind) but I can't say it impacted the picture while watching it, even looking fine in darker sequences.
The only aspect I do question a little bit, and it's one I find myself questioning frequently, is the presentation’s colours, which lean a green-ish/yellow-ish hue, differing from the natural look presented on the HVE DVD. The look of the film overall does appear to be going for a “black-and-white in colour” type of appearance, similar to Le cercle rouge, and that appropriately desaturated look is effectively delivered through the grading on this disc. Archival clips from television broadcasts found within this disc’s features also suggest this is the intended look, and even if the clips end up presenting what I would say is more of a blue tint it still all leads to a look similar to what's delivered here, just bluer. One aspect to that footage making it questionable, though, is the fact it's in rough condition, looking far darker, and it's hard to say if the colours have deteriorated through the years. Also, I can't say skin tones that lean blue look right.
Still, hesitation aside, as it is I can’t say things looked all that off and it suits the cold look of the film. Despite colours leaning that slight green it doesn't oppress the picture in the same way other recent 4K gradings typically do, like ones performed by Ritrovata where everything is just drenched in some ungodly yellow. Whites here can show a hint of a green tint at times but it still looks white. Skin tones come off looking natural, blues make appearances and look blue instead of cyan, while blacks are still rich and inky. Where things are a bit off are in the darker shots, where the blacks do come out looking a bit heavy, limiting shadow detail. It’s possible a 4K presentation with HDR could maybe pull out more detail but as it is here these shots can look very flat.
In the end I’m happy with it. I can’t say whether the colours are correct, sadly, but I didn’t find they impacted the image in an egregious manner, suiting the desaturated look the film appears to be going for. With an impressive clean-up job and a decent looking encode on screen it ends up being rather sharp looking.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural track is limited regarding range, but dialogue sounds clear and there is no damage to speak of. It also doesn’t sound like any excessive filtering has been applied. It’s unremarkable but perfectly serviceable.
Criterion doesn’t create any new disc content for this release, reusing material StudioCanal produced for their recent region B release of the film and digging up some archival material, but it’s still a thoughtfully put-together edition.
From the recent StudioCanal edition are two interviews: a 26-minute one with editor Henri Lanoë, and a 49-minute one with critic Michel Ciment. Lanoë spends his time talking about how he worked with the American director, which differed from previous experiences, whether it be how little input Losey would allow during early stages (at least from him) or how few takes the director did while shooting, limiting options in the editing room (though it all miraculously worked). He was also impressed with how well Losey captured occupied Paris, noting it reflected his own memories of the period.
Ciment’s contribution ends up being an overview and reflection on Losey’s career, though there is more of a focus on Mr. Klein as he makes his way through the director’s work. But Ciment also touches on his American work, his British work, and then his French work, looking at common themes present while also defending some of the films dismissed by others in the process. I’m not terribly familiar with Losey admittedly, having only seen a few of his films, but I found this an especially worthwhile crash course.
To accompany that Criterion also includes a 33-minute excerpt of an audio interview between Ciment and Losey, recorded in 1976, around the time of Mr. Klein’s release. There is of course discussion around the film and Losey’s experience working with Delon, but the interview really picks up when the filmmaker talks about his blacklisting and his move to Europe. Also from the archives is a 13-minute excerpt from a 1976 episode of the French television program Pour le cinema. Filmed on location during production the segment features interviews with Delon and Losey, the director talking about the three styles he incorporates into the film and what he’s trying to say with it.
That segment also touches on the film’s portrayal of the Vél d’Hiv Roundup, where French police rounded up over 13,000 Jewish residents and had them deported to concentration camps. This incident is depicted in the film’s final act (to much controversy at the time) and to provide more context Criterion includes what may be the disc’s best feature, the 1986 French television program Story of a Day: The Vél d’Hiv Roundup. Getting past the 80’s aesthetic (which carries on through to the host), the 84-minute program delves deep into the events that led up to the incident and allowed it to happen, all of it borne from rising anti-Semitism in the country and the misplaced desire to keep the Germans from taking over various local entities, including the police. The program offers up a clear timeline and features interviews with survivors and others familiar with the incident, including former resistance fighter, Claude Lévy. They even managed to call up René Bousquet, who served as secretary general for the police during that time period, and to say he’s not happy about being asked tough questions around the incident would be an understatement. The program also brings up the controversy around mentioning or referencing the incident in then-recent years, which ended up pushing Alain Resnais to having to censor a photo in his film, Night and Fog (properly restored in Criterion's Blu-ray after an odd insert in their previous DVD). It also features archival footage, though the program does make a rather unfortunate decision to present some footage from Mr. Klein in what feels to be a similar “news footage” kind of manner. Again it’s incredibly dated and features some questionable editing choices, but it’s effective and gets the job done. A wonderful inclusion on Criterion’s part.
The disc then closes with a trailer for the new restoration while the included insert features an essay on the film by scholar Ginette Vincendeau. A new interview featuring her would have been great, but the essay is an excellent read.
All around, Criterion has put together a terrific special edition, the inclusion of the documentary around the Vél d’Hiv Roundup being the strongest inclusion.
I’m still unsure around the colours but the end presentation is solid and the features are all well worth going through.