The Tenant (1976)

Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Directed by Roman Polanski

The Tenant is a 1976 psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanski, starring Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, and Shelley Winters. It is based upon the 1964 novel Le locataire chimérique by Roland Topor. The film is also known under the French title Le Locataire. It is the last film in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”, following Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. It was entered into the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. The film had a total of 534,637 admissions in France.

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The Art Of Terror

9 March 2007 | by alainbenoix (Paris, France) – See all my reviews

Meek, tiny, almost insignificant. Polanski finds the invisibility of his characters and makes something enormous out of it. In front and behind the camera he creates one of the most uncomfortable masterpieces I had the pleasure to see and see and see again. It never let’s me down. People, even people who know me pretty well, thought/think there was/is something wrong with me, based on my attraction, or I should say, devotion for “Le Locataire” They may be right, I don’t know but there is something irresistibly enthralling within Polanski’s darkness and I haven’t even mentioned the humor. The mystery surrounding the apartment and the previous tenant, the mystery that takes over him and, naturally, us, me. That building populated by great old Academy Award winners: Melvyn Douglas, Shelley Winters, Jo Van Fleet, Lila Kedrova. For anyone who loves movies, this is compulsory viewing. One, two, three, many, many viewings.

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Anatomy of Insanity

Author: lkil from Oakland, California
4 September 2004

This is a wonderfully tense and intensely claustrophobic film with a slowly escalating and relentless psychologically terror. Roman Polanski stays true to his style from Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. But this movie is more than a simple examination of the onset of insanity from within the person who is experiencing it. The theme of loneliness and the sense of purposeless petty existence are the real backdrop of this excellent work, the fact which makes it similar to Kubrick’s Shining. Still, The Tenant has deeper literary roots. In my opinion, the inspiration for this movie came right from the great works of European literature — the influence of Edgar A. Poe, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Nikolai Gogol is simply obvious. Poe’s tales of madness out of loneliness, Hoffmann’s stories of tragic delirium (most prominently, The Sandman, Majorat, and The Mines of Falun), and, of course, Gogol’s eerie The Overcoat provided Polanski with the inspiration for this modern examination of the same topics.

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Trelkovsky, a French citizen of Polish origin, is a nondescript and unassuming loner who moves into an apartment the previous occupant of which, a young woman, has thrown herself out of the window. The building is owned by the stern and ice-cold old man, who is hell bent on making sure his tenants do not make any noise and do not cause any trouble. He (and his underlings in the building) consider any sign of life to be “trouble.” The old man spends much of his time enforcing a near-police-state-like order within the building. Undeniably, all kind of extremely weird things are going on in the building and I will not dwell on them. But it is the strange intrusiveness of the police-state which injects real terror into Trelkovsky’s life. Faced with absurdity after absurdity, he makes some meek attempts to complain and ask for explanations: instead, noone is even ready to listen to him — he is being treated like a piece of dirt practically by everyone.

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It is also important that Trelkovsky’s plunge into madness occurs suddenly and very abruptly. It seems almost like a psychological breakdown and a rebellion at the same time. He has lived the life of conformity, compliance, and quite resentment, never able to stand his ground or even establish his individual sovereignty. Trelkovksy’s meekness is simply striking. His sudden and violent obsession with not letting “them” make him into the previous occupant of the flat is a pathological and concentrated reaction to the years of pent up passive aggression and anger. The infernal scream at the end of the film is the wild shout of anguish. In a certain sense, the completely unexpected finale of the film presents a huge puzzle which is not really intended to be resolved. But Polanski seems to be investing it with important symbolic meaning.

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This world is full of multiple Trelkovskys, little, unnoticeable people terrorized by their own sense of total insignificance. This is a vicious cycle of dependence between people’s unconscious yet compulsive cruelty to each other and the tortured compliance with this cruelty by others.

This is an excellent, dark and captivating film in the best traditions of European psychological Gothic literature. I strongly recommend to watch this movie and take a look at Poe’s, Hoffmann’s and Gogol’s stories.

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“What right has my head to call itself me?”

8/10
Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
31 October 2007

After his classic film noir homage Chinatown Roman Polanski returned to the themes that had given him his greatest hits in the 60s with this creepy psychological horror which, like Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, deals with the paranoia and claustrophobia generated by apartment living.

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Claustrophobic environments are the ones which Polanski is best at creating, and this has to be the most suffocating and confined picture he ever created. The emphasis on side walls and distant vanishing points is greater than ever, and even in the small number of exterior scenes the sky is rarely glimpsed. But The Tenant is not just confined spatially, but also in the intensity with which it focuses on its protagonist. Trelkovsky, played by Polanski himself is not only in every scene, he is in virtually every shot. When he is not on screen more often than not the camera becomes Trelkovsky’s point of view. And of course almost everywhere he looks he sees his own reflection staring back at him in a mirror.

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I can’t think of any film that is more about the internalisation and solitude of one character. Some psychological thrillers, like M or Peeping Tom, manipulate us into feeling sorry for the mentally ill protagonist. Others, like Psycho, attempt in-depth scientific analysis of his mental condition. The Tenant fits into neither of these categories – it simply immerses us completely inside Trelkovsky’s experience without demanding we actually understand or appreciate what is going on inside his head. We feel his paranoia and obsession even though it is constantly revealed to us that they are irrational.

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Polanski was also a master of the slowly unfolding horror film. Often in his horrors there is an ambiguity as to whether there is actually anything sinister going on, but they are among the most effective at frightening audiences. Why? Precisely because they unfold so slowly and invest so much time in painstakingly setting up situations that they immerse the viewer in paranoia. A much later Polanski horror, The Ninth Gate is a bit of a mess plot-wise but at least it still manages to achieve that creeping sense of dread.

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This is a rare chance to see Polanski himself in a major role. His talent in front of the camera was as good as behind it, and he is absolutely perfect as the meek Trelkovsky. Another standout performance is that of the all-too-often overlooked Shelley Winters as the concierge. In actual fact it is rather a stellar cast, although many of the familiar faces look out of place in this strange, Gothic European movie. Also sadly many of the French actors in supporting roles are atrociously dubbed in the English language version.

The Tenant is more polished and less pretentious than Repulsion, but it lacks the suspense and the character that make Rosemary’s Baby so engrossing and entertaining. The Tenant is good, with no major flaws, and Polanski was really on top form as a director, but it’s not among his most gripping works.

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Creepy…as…hell…

10/10
Author: BroadswordCallinDannyBoy from Boston, MA
18 June 2004

This is one creepy movie. Creepier than anything David Lynch, and that shows what a great director Polanski is since this is not his usual type of work, and it is BRILLIANT.

It all starts of with Trelkovski moves into a tenement block in Paris. He soon learns that the previous tenant, a young woman, committed suicide and he believes the rest of the people living there drove her to it. He also believes that they are trying to do the same to him. What results is a amazing and frightening look at paranoia.

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The whole production has classical horror written all over it: from the imagery to the music the viewer can feel poor Trelkovski’s terror building up.

Are they all out to kill him? Or maybe just drive him mad? Is there a difference? Find out for yourself. 10/10

Paranoid Polanski in peril

8/10
Author: Jonny_Numb from Hellfudge, Pennsylvania
15 April 2006

What can be said, really… “The Tenant” is a first-class thriller wrought with equal amounts of suspense and full-blown paranoia. It’s an intricately-plotted film–every detail seems included for a reason–even though the plot seldom makes sense, and much of it is never even addressed in an objective manner.

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Therefore we are left with the increasingly unstable Trelkovsky (Polanski)–a meek Polish man who has obtained an apartment due to the previous tenant’s suicide–to guide us through a world of escalating fear and uncertainty. After an apartment-warming party thrown by a group of obnoxious coworkers, Trelkovsky comes under increased, seemingly inexplicable scrutiny by the fellow occupants in his building; the rest of the film chronicles his mental deterioration and gives us a thorough mindfu*k on par with the later efforts of David Lynch. “The Tenant,” however, is more brooding and sinister, laced with unexpected comic relief, fine performances, and a truly haunting score. It’s a movie that’s better experienced than described, so hop to it.

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The muppet’s Marlboro complot

Author: manuel-pestalozzi from Zurich, Switzerland
9 July 2003

This beautifully directed and photographed movie seems to be full of allusions. It demands attention and may be boring for people who just want plain action or a quick succession of blood curdling horror scenes. Some knowledge of art and film history is helpful here.

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The cast is marvelous. You meet Shelley Winters as the concierge and Melvyn Douglas as the proprietor of an old apartment house in the midst of a moldy 19th century Parisian district. The two great veteran actors are used for what they are – icons. Every movie buff who likes The French Connection II will experience a pleasant feeling of “deja vu”. The same actor who serves Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle a whisky in a Marseilles bar and becomes his only buddy in France is now the waiter who brings the tenant a cup of cocoa in a Paris bar. He even wears the same wardrobe! The same can be said of French actor Bernard Fresson, Popeye’s police contact in Marseilles. He plays the nasty, vulgar acquaintance of the tenant who wants to teach him how a tenant should behave. Polanski plays the kafkaesque main character himself. His performance impressed me very much, he is not only one of the most interesting directors I know but an immensely talented actor too.

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The way people look in this movie reminded me very much of the Muppet show (incidentally the TV series was started the same year The Tenant was released). The characters are deliberately overdrawn and feel like caricatures (nobody more so than the sexy Isabelle Adjani character – not exactly a Miss Piggy but not too far from it either). The way they were made up and filmed gives them a strong puppet-like appearance. The apartment house is realistic yet it looks more like a doll house than the set of Hitchcock‘s Rear Window. Muppets pop out of their compartments and do things that are banal or mysterious.

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The Tenant deals mainly with the main character’s paranoia. The apartment house offers a look into the tenant’s troubled mind. The movie comments on the effects of bigotry and indifference but also on the perception of an individual who may give wrong meanings to certain events. The situation allows the introduction of signs and objects with symbolic values. The director made full use of the possibilities the movie offered here. I could not say I understood the meaning of it all (e.g. the tenant slaps a kid in the face in a park for no apparent reason), but I am sure it does not really matter. The tenant thinks there is a complot against him and he sees all events in this light. Even the fact that the barkeeper has run out of his beloved Gauloises bleues and presses Marlboros on him instead he sees as part of a devilish plan!

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Despite the finely tuned dark colors and the dark thoughts of the main character they reflect, The Tenant is surprisingly light. Some may call it sophisticated camp. This lightness which is achieved with a peculiar sense of humor seems to be a trademark of Polanski’s movies. He persues his tactics to look for the absurd in the midst of horrors. The ending is very grotesque. Ashamedly I have to admit it: It made me laugh.

Somehow The Tenant borrows from Polanski’s earlier film Repulsion. But it has more flourish. The choice and the use of real locations is very good. Some ideas of this movie were integrated in Polanski’s later film Frantic, including Polanski’s apparent love for Paris garbage men and their equipment. Whoever likes The Tenant should look for movies of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. They are in the same vein.

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  • Although typically labelled as the third part of Polanski’s so-called “Apartment Trilogy”, this came about more by luck than by design. The film adaptation was originally to have been made by British director Jack Clayton, who was attached to the project around seven years before Polanski made it. According to Clayton’s biographer Neil Sinyard, Clayton originally tried to make the film ca. 1969 for Universal Studios, from a script by Edward Albee, but this version never made it into production after the relationship between Albee and the studio soured.

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  • Paramount bought the rights on Clayton’s advice in 1971. Clayton returned to the project in the mid-1970s, and a rough draft script by Christopher Hampton was written while Clayton was preparing The Great Gatsby. By the time Clayton had delivered Gatsby to Paramount in March 1974, he had learned from Robert Evans that Polanski was interested in the project and wanted to play the lead role. While Clayton was occupied preparing foreign language versions of Gatsby for the European market, Paramount studio head Barry Diller began negotiations with Polanski. Although Clayton later insisted that he was never specifically asked if he was still interested, and never said “no” to it, Diller wrongly assumed that Clayton had lost interest and transferred the project to Polanski, without asking Clayton.

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  • When he found out, Clayton called Diller in September 1974, expressing his dismay that Diller had given another director a film which (Clayton insisted) had been specifically purchased by the studio for him, and for doing so without consultation.
  • Decoration was designed by Pierre Guffroy, the costumes by Jacques Schmidt. Sven Nykvist was responsible for the photography, Jean-Pierre Ruh (fr) for the sound.
  • Polanski receives no acting credit, despite the fact he plays the lead character.

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