When the Nazis occupied France during WWII, part of the French population, rather than be imprisoned, tortured, or put to death, uneasily agreed to participate in the fascist hatred of the Jews that Nazism espoused. The depiction of this French anti-Semitism in Mr. Klein, set in 1942, is a telling one, involving a cunning French art dealer who takes maximum advantage of Jews fleeing Paris by offering only the bare minimum amounts for their works of art they want to sell to raise money to leave.
The dealer, Robert Klein, portrayed by Alain Delon, is arrogant, cocky, charming, and handsome--i.e., women fall for him at the drop of a hat, including the wife of a colleague (the colleague is played by Michel Lonsdale, one of the best, most underrated French actors around) who's now firmly entrenched in the ranks of the French anti-Semites. This is tellingly on display at a "theater amusement" put on for the benefit of the occupying Nazis in which a large-nosed Jewish man (an actor obviously wearing a mask) is seen stealing gold chains from the necks of various women. The "theater piece" is a cheap, tawdry affair that attracts those whose narrow minds gravitate to such drek. Klein is there with his girlfriend and at the same time that he wishes not to be seen as a Jew, he has absolutely no interest at all in being identified with these riff-raff.
The dilemma he finds himself in is that he is, in fact, being seen as a Jew; someone, he thinks, is setting him up for that since he receives in the mail a copy of a Jewish newspaper to which he never subscribed and in protesting to the police, a snowball effect occurs.
The trail of activity he initiates, attempting to prove his non-Jewishness only serves, Kafka-like, to dig the hole deeper. One of the best of the Joseph Losey films, Mr. Klein is a penetrating drama with excellent acting, perfect period re-creation, and brilliant plotting by Franco Solinas. There is one point, however, that is puzzling. Many people do not know that the Nazis executed a large number of Catholics; while Judaism was their primary target of destruction, Catholicism was not spared. Yet in this film, a Catholic mass in Paris is depicted with all church officials in full regalia.
Nevertheless, this is a great film, extremely well thought out with great casting and scathing social commentary that makes this resonate long after story's end.