The Delirious Fictions of William Klein

William Klein, now 90 years old, lived some kind of fantasy life. As an American G.I. stationed in Paris during WWII, he stayed after the war to study painting at the Sorbonne with Cubist painter Fernand L‚ger, became a celebrated fashion photographer, married Belgian model Jeanne Florin, and made several off-beat feature films. Some of Klein?s movies did well in France, but have received few screenings in the U.S. This may have as much to do with the Brooklyn native?s quirky formalism as his critical stance toward his home country. Criterion’s The Delirious Fictions of William Klein brings together Who Are You, Polly Magoo? (1966), Mr. Freedom (1969), and The Model Couple (1977), a trio of Klein?s narrative features, if one can use that adjective, as opposed to the documentaries and shorts he concentrated on in following years. Magoo is a stylish, moody black and white film centered around a vapid American model in France, grappling with existential questions clearly beyond her reach. The Model Couple is the best of the three, a clever, prophetic mockumentary about a French couple so remarkably average that they become demographic exemplars, scrutinized by the media while living in a model home and testing out state-of-the-art products. Their ambivalence about the project fuels the drama, as things gradually go more and more hilariously wrong. Mr. Freedom, Klein?s Vietnam-era psychedelic kiss-off comedy, sports fabulous costumes and a wacky, anarchic energy in the crowd scenes. But the film, alas, aims clumsily at American foreign policy, lampoons Communism, and winds up looking like what might happen if Ed Wood remade Dr. Strangelove.