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Damned Hard To Find an Apartment These Days

August 4th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski was born August 18, 1933 in Paris. The sordid details of his flight from the United States in 1978 have often overshadowed discussion of the director’s work, which at the age of 77, includes one of the best films of 2010. Is he a world class filmmaker? In the month of August, I take a look at ten directed by Roman Polanski.

Tenant 1976 poster Tenant dvd
The Tenant (1976)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Gérard Brach & Roman Polanski, based on the novel Le Locataire chimérique by Roland Topor
Produced by Andrew Braunsberg
126 minutes

Marrying the economy of a student filmmaker with the technical flourish of an Academy Award nominee for Best Director, Roman Polanski’s follow-up to Chinatown is an occasionally freakish problem child. The narrative misbehaves, some of the production choices are uneasy, but this thriller is unforgettable. Based on a 1964 novel by French illustrator Roland Topor, film rights were obtained by Universal Pictures for Jack Clayton to direct. It was picked up by Paramount and while Clayton labored to finish The Great Gatsby, studio chief Robert Evans apparently hooked Polanski into making The Tenant. Shot in Paris with Polanski actually playing the lead role, the second most jarring aspect is that everyone in the cast except Polanski, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet and Shelley Winters had their voices dubbed to English for the American prints.

Alfred Hitchcock — who was much more comfortable in front of a camera — never starred in one of his pictures and it’s difficult to justify Polanski directing himself in The Tenant. While Robert DeNiro or Harvey Keitel would have launched this into another realm, watching Polanski duck in and out of scenes gives the film a unique vibe it might not have had with a star. A black sheep relation to Rosemary’s Baby without characters to empathize with, the film is equipped with a wicked black wit, unusual lighting by Sven Nykvist and a disquieting musical score by Philippe Sarde. Unconventional through and through, Polanski uses the film’s peculiarities to lure us into the story rather than alienate us.  An eclectic mix of American character actors and French performers, tongue-in-cheek goofiness and sinister thrill, The Tenant plays more like a wily Sundance entry than a labored Hollywood film.

Tenant 1976 title card

A young man named Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski) arrives at a Paris apartment building, where he troubles the sullen property manager (Shelley Winters) to show him a room for rent. Garishly decorated and lacking a toilet, The Concierge points to the spot where the previous tenant landed when she jumped out the window. The tenant survived the fall, but The Concierge seems satisfied that she won’t recover. After passing his interview with the building’s owner Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas), Trelkovsky visits Bretonneau Hospital, where the tenant is covered in bandages and cannot speak. At her bedside is Stella (Isabelle Adjani), who becomes even more distraught when her friend lets loose a blood curdling scream and dies. Trelkovsky takes Stella to see Enter the Dragon and after making out in the theater, go their separate ways.

Soon, strange things are afoot at Trelkovsky’s apartment building. Behind a wardrobe, he discovers a hole in the wall containing a whole human tooth. With a view of the toilet across the courtyard, Trelkovsky observes tenants standing still for hours. His neighbor Madame Gaderian (Lila Kedrova) and a disabled daughter knock on his door, fearful that someone has lodged a complaint against them. Later, Madame Dioz (Jo Van Fleet) visits, demanding he add his signature to a petition to evict Madam Gaderian and her son due to the noise. Not certain what she’s talking about, Trelkovsky refuses. Investigating the toilet, he discovers Egyptian hieroglyphics on the wall of the type the previous tenant was obsessed with. He becomes convinced he’s suffering a plot by his neighbors to kill him and with Stella’s help, tries to figure out why.

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski Shelley Winters

Tenant 1976 Isabelle Adjani Roman Polanski

Tenant 1976 Isabelle Adjani Roman Polanski

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski

Tenant 1976 Melvyn Douglas Roman Polanski

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski Isabelle Adjani

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski Jo Van Fleet

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski

Tenant 1976 Roman Polanski Isabelle Adjani

Tenant 1976 Isabelle Adjani Melvyn Douglas Jo Van Fleet

What do you say?

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Based on novel · Cult favorite · Dreams and visions · Femme fatale · Interrogation · Murder mystery · Paranoia

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Susan // Aug 26, 2010 at 2:27 am

    I loved this film – one of the creepiest I have ever watched. No-one does pyschological thrillers like Polanski and I think he was perfect in the role of Trelkovsky. I watched this film for the first time two weeks ago and it still haunts me. I think also that his was also one of the rare ocassions when the director was just as talented on screen as he was behind the camera.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Aug 26, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Susan: Welcome and thanks so much for leaving a comment! What strikes me about The Tenant is the way Polanski can alternate between horror and comedy. The movie is never trying to sell any one audience but combines both emotions very well. I don’t think it comes together as elegantly as Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s a unique film.

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