Friday, 2 April 2010

Two from the Many...

I had every intention of writing today about G.W. Pabst's 1926 silent "Secrets of a Soul" which I had booked to see last night. However, ever since buying the tickets I had a little niggle at the back of my mind that I knew the film and had not been overly taken with it. Then yesterday afternoon -- quite by accident -- I discovered that not only had I seen it, but that I had taken a copy off German television less than two years ago! That being the case I could see no good reason for dragging myself halfway across London in the rain just to view it on a not-so-big screen. However, to refresh my vague memory, I did plough through my copy.

Contrary to public perception -- possibly by some film critics who have not actually seen the film -- it is not a gem of German Expressionist cinema, although it does have one rather good dream sequence which gets overly repeated in bits. Made in the era that Freud's 'Intepretation of Dreams' was fashionable, the movie sets itself up as a story of pyschoanalytic glory. Werner Krauss plays a middle-aged chemist who finds himself increasingly alienated from his much younger and rather attractive wife, obsessing about her relationship with her equally young male cousin, and fixated and frightened by knives. He suffers from recurrent nightmares and seeks help from an analyst. The latter systematically explains the various meanings of the dream's elements as they relate to buried memories, but unlike current psychiatric practice the various explanations and solutions are just presented by the therapist, rather than coming from the patient himself. Eventually when all is explained away, our troubled hero can find happiness with his wife and their new child. In fact the film is mainly a rather plodding domestic drama enlivened only by the brief dream imagery. I'm rather glad that I didn't brave the elements after all.

So instead I think I'll say a few words about another previously-seen film, "Mr. Klein" (1976) -- or "Monsieur Klein" to give it its correct title since it was made by director Joseph Losey in French. American-born Losey had a strange career, exiling himself to Britain to escape the McCarthy communist witch-hunts. In the U.K. he made some highly-considered films like "The Servant", "Accident", and "The Go-between". However this one, towards the tail-end of his career, is probably one of his very best, albeit very disturbing. Set in Paris in 1942, Alain Delon plays a Catholic art-dealer who is comfortable with the German occupation, who has no qualms about profiteering from sales by Jews desperate to emigrate, and who sees nothing wrong with attending an anti-Semitic cabaret. When a government-sanctioned Jewish newspaper is delivered to his address, he discovers that there is another Robert Klein at large in Paris, one who is both Jewish and wanted by the police.

Delon, who earlier in his career might have been considered little more than a very pretty face, proves himself as an actor here, as he becomes obsessed with finding the other Klein while attempting to protect his own interests. The more he discovers about the never-seen other man, who everyone says is very much like him, the more he jeopardizes his own wealth and freedom. The film is an interesting riff on the nature of identity and the spiralling circumstances from which our Mr. Klein can not extricate himself. Supported by an able cast, of whom Michael Lonsdale as his self-righteous lawyer is a stand-out, the film is primarily a showcase for Delon's talent. Second-billing goes to Jeanne Moreau in a rather disposable part playing a wealthy, married mistress of the other disreputable Klein. The film finishes as the round-up of Jews and other undesirables is being carried out by the authorities; Delon now finds himself irretrievably locked into the destinies of the very people from whom he has sought to prove his separation. It's not an easy film to watch or to accept, as Delon's character sinks further and further into the morass, a victim of both the cruel period and his own making.
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