Paris 1942. France is about to begin the mass transportation of Jews to Germany. Robert Klein profiteers from those fleeing the city by buying their possessions at a knock-down price. We first see him negotiating the purchase of a painting. He’s effortlessly polite and even claims to be embarrassed. “I assure you it’s most unpleasant for me.’ But the seller (Jean Bouise) isn’t taken in and concludes the deal as quickly as possible. As he leaves, Klein courteously opens the door and wishes the man “Bon voyage, and good luck.” Then he notices a copy of the information pamphlet sent out to all Jews lying on his doormat. Assuming his guest dropped it on the way in he hands it back to him only to find it is correctly addressed to a Robert Klein. The Jewish man offers a wry smile. “Good luck to you Mr Klein.”
Klein visits the police to tell them about the mistake. There must be another Robert Klein living in Paris. They check and find out there is. But the police are not convinced he’s the Robert Klein who isn’t a Jew. Klein has inadvertently informed on himself. So he begins to hunt his namesake through Paris visiting places he knows the other Klein to have been. Yet people seem to recognise him and often behave like he’s the same person. “Same height, same hair. Slim, the same look..” says the other Klein’s landlady when he turns up to view his doppelgänger’s apartment. The room seems to have been empty for a while, and she says this Klein would come and go during the night. The police too are hunting for this Klein and in the background there are little changes going on, signs in shops, yellow stars on jackets, anti-Semitic propaganda, and cabaret performances with exaggerated Jewish caricatures as the villain, all showing a gradual acceptance of this othering of a minority group.
Delon played doppelgängers in the Louis Malle segment of Spirits of the Dead (1968), an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Willie Wilson” about a man haunted throughout his life by a namesake who resembles him and turns up at inopportune moments. This is more like Kafka, an innocent man (who feels guilty) searching for an answer that remains forever out of reach and inadvertently bringing about his own destruction. His attempts to clear his name with the authorities just make him look all the more guilty in their eyes. Klein thought his position as a member of the middle-classes would protect him and even right at the end as his fate becomes clear he’s still insisting “This has nothing to do with me.” We never meet the double in Mr Klein, although we do hear a telephone conversation between the two men. Whether he exists or not is a moot point. Mr Klein is about how tenuous an individual can become when society ceases to function in a civilised way. Something a blacklisted exile like Losey was painfully aware of.