Year of Release: 1976
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenwriters: Roman Polanski, Gérard Brach
Director of Photography: Sven Nykvist
Cast: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas
Synopsis: A timid man rents an apartment in Paris where he is disturbed to uncover the story of the previous tenant who attempted suicide by jumping from the window. Troubled by the woman’s gruesome fate and scorned by fellow residents, the man loses his grip on reality and finds himself heading down a similarly destructive path.
The Tenant Review:
A self-contained horror movie with a paranoid subtext, “The Tenant” sees Roman Polanski at his gloomiest and most tentative as he adapts a Roland Topor novel that accurately reflects his disdain for the dregs of city living. Coming just seven years after the murder of his pregnant wife, who was slaughtered in their home by the Manson family, the movie feels haunted by the unspoken turmoil of its creator as Polanski fashions matchless art out of great pain and contemplation in the ephemeral moments before a sexual abuse case tarnished his image forever.
As much about inner conflict as it is about the dangers of private spaces, “The Tenant” sees the director turning the gun on himself as he volunteers for a lead role that demands he be ridiculed and beaten down by impatient, obnoxious, and short-tempered occupants. Despite being a reasonable, soft-spoken man, Trelkovsky finds himself retriggering the events that preceded his arrival as a fever takes over him and erases the line between fiction and reality while pale-faced tenants take on a peculiar, ghostly quality within the confines of the apartment block.
Experimental but highly unique, “The Tenant” predates “The Shining” yet feels inherently linked to Stephen King’s later bestseller as Trelkovsky develops an irrational alter ego who begins re-enacting the events that led to a previous dweller’s downfall. Transforming into a female and acting out a graphic suicide, complete with broken bones and serrated glass, Polanski takes a Hitchcockian framework and renders it unsightly as couples gather in their windows to watch him jump but are suggested to be mere apparitions within the scope of his own insanity.
It’s no surprise that the movie should end this way as Polanski sees judgement and groupthink chip away at his gentle protagonist whose faith in goodness is constantly shattered by the self-absorbed nature of the people he’s surrounded by. Finding comedy in his own awkwardness, Polanski laughs at Trelkovsky’s clumsiness in social spaces as he struggles to retain composure while engaging in a series of baffling conversations about love, life, and identity; never reaching a solid conclusion about what it means to be alive but grotesquely mapping the configuration of his own death in the process.