The shock of seeing Joseph Losey's newly restored, long unavailable "Mr. Klein" is not so much surprise at how compelling it is but astonishment at how it seems more relevant today than at its original 1976 release.
Moody, elegantly disturbing and impeccably made by a master director, this story of blurred identities and casual immorality in German-occupied Paris benefits from what might be the best performance of star Alain Delon's long career as well as potent cameos by Jeanne Moreau, Michel Lonsdale and Juliet Berto.
The movie's gifts were acknowledged at the time, with Cesars for film, director and production design (by the legendary Alexandre Trauner) as well as nominations in four additional categories.
But there was criticism as well for Losey as an expatriate American (in Europe fleeing the Hollywood blacklist) making a French language film set against one of that country's darkest moments, the Vel d'Hiv roundup.
That 1942 event saw French police, not German soldiers, carrying out a mass arrest of some 13,000 foreign Jews living in Paris, something that no one expected and few survived.
Losey, working largely with "Battle of Algiers" screenwriter Franco Solinas (though Costa-Gavras and Fernando Morandi also worked on the script), said his experience with the blacklist years influenced the wartime atmosphere of desperation and despair he created.
The aim of the prevailing cultural mood in both periods, he said in an interview with critic Michel Ciment, "is to make everybody on the street so frightened that they won't even remotely engage in any kind of activity."
What this means in practice is that the story arc of "Mr. Klein" is anything but a world of simplistic finger pointing.
Instead, using the elliptical style of earlier movies like "The Servant" and "Accident," Losey created a Kafkaesque world where everyone is vulnerable and no one is on safe ground, a world where nothing is certain, not even your own identity. Especially your own identity.
In the Paris of 1942, Robert Klein is introduced as the master of all he surveys, an art dealer taking advantage of Jews desperate for cash to leave the country by buying their collections at bargain prices.