Mr. Klein (1976)

October 27, 2015

I am strangely particular when it comes to movies that deal with the Holocaust. There are so many instances in which filmmakers tackle the touchy subject by attempting to make it "relatable" to non-Jewish audiences. As if it would be absolutely impossible to empathize with a character who doesn't share your religion or heritage. Very often these films tend to fall into one of four categories--
  1. The protagonist is a gentile character who saves Jewish victims of the Holocaust (ie. Schindler's List) 
  2. The protagonist is sent to a camp for political reasons (ie. Sophie's Choice)
  3. The protagonist is sent to a camp by accident (ie. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) 
  4. The story is told through the lens of someone who wasn't involved in the Holocaust at all (ie. Sophie's Choice, again, or Sarah's Key)
I understand the motives behind this, but I feel like it does a disservice to the victims of the Holocaust. I think it also wildly underestimates moviegoers' capacity for empathy. We can relate to characters who don't share our background, and, at least in my opinion, when something horrible happens to someone in a movie I don't need to know that their makeup was the same as mine to feel their pain. And knowing their makeup was different from mine doesn't lessen that pain in the slightest.

Mr. Klein (1976) is about a French-Catholic protagonist who is mistaken for a Jew who shares his name. Although it falls into one of the categories that I mentioned above (#3) it doesn't strike me as a movie that was simply trying to light fire in the bellies of emotionally vapid moviegoers.

Alain Delon plays Robert Klein, a Christian art dealer in occupied France who buys paintings at dirt-cheap prices from Jews who are being forced to sell their belongings. When a Jewish newspaper shows up on his doorstep it starts a series of events that make Klein question his own identity, often seeming to flip back and forth between denial (even when he's thrown on a bus as part of the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup he adamantly declares that this has nothing to do with him, as if everyone else on the bus *should* be there, while he shouldn't) and doubt (what about that Danish side of the Klein family tree? what if he really is Jewish?) Rather than just asking the audience to relate to a non-Jewish victim of the Holocaust, Mr. Klein creates an ambiguous character who literally could be ANYONE. He could be the French-Catholic art dealer, or he could be the Jewish resistance fighter who shares his name. He could be a man with some Jewish heritage or a man with none at all. His identity doesn't belong to him anymore, it was reduced to a series of missing documents and physical measurements.

Aside from the political nature of the film, it's also an incredibly suspenseful mystery and an interesting treatise on the nature of obsession. Mr. Klein was directed by Joseph Losey, who also directed two of my favorite Dirk Bogarde movies, Accident and The Servant. I love his directorial style and it suits this movie so well. I'm not very good at describing what I love about filmmakers but I just love his camerawork and the atmosphere he creates in his films.

I'll be thinking about this movie for a long time. It's interesting on so many levels and honestly every aspect of it was perfect. I've been on an Alain Delon binge recently, which (I know for a fact) sometimes clouds my judgement on acting quality but he was seriously amazing as Robert Klein. He brings a kind of detached obsessiveness to this role that could have easily been played over-the-top by someone else.

I have so many more thoughts, but I'll leave it here since this is already getting too long. I'd definitely recommend watching this if you get a chance. Even if you're not interested in Holocaust-related cinema, it's a haunting psychological thriller that deserves to be seen.

Two on a Guillotine: That Darn Cat meets The Haunting

October 23, 2015

Every October I promise myself that I'll spend every free waking minute watching scary movies, and almost every October I end up watching The Body Snatcher and Doctor X and that's about it. This year I've been doing much better, and I've seen a lot more new-to-me thrillers than ever before.

I think my favorite so far has been Two on a Guillotine, a spooky movie from 1965 starring Connie Stevens and Dean Jones. This really is That Darn Cat meets The Haunting. Connie Stevens' plays a young woman whose estranged magician father (played brilliantly by Cesar Romero) recently passed away. Dean Jones is an undercover reporter who cozies up to her to try to get the scoop on her mysterious father and his creepy promise to return from the grave.

Stevens and Jones had a wonderful chemistry. I'd only ever seen Stevens in the campy melodrama Susan Slade, but here she seems to be having so much fun! Her interactions with Jones seem perfectly natural and there's an ease about her performance that you don't normally find in 60's horror movies. I feel like sometimes Dean Jones can be a little too much for me, but here his energetic personality, and the fast pace at which he spits out his dialogue, seem much less overwhelming. Perhaps it's because Connie Stevens exudes such a cool, calm air that she balances out his energy... or perhaps it's because his neurotic spirit is a welcome respite in a film that takes place in a (potentially) haunted mansion.

The movie fluctuates between romance and horror quite seamlessly. Witty banter is found side-by-side with strange wails emanating from the basement. But here's the thing -- normally movies that play light with horror tend to be devoid of any actual scares. But this movie has scenes that rival The Haunting in palpable tension and bone-chilling fright. I was actually clutching my blanket in fear a few times, and I'm pretty sure that I might have screamed at the same time as Connie Stevens in one particular scene.

Overall this had a wonderful mix of light and dark, sinister sounds and 60's dance music, romantic tension and edge-of-your-seat thrills. I enjoyed this movie immensely and I think it'll join The Body Snatcher and Doctor X as a film that I return to every October.

It's available to watch instantly on Amazon here.