Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Roman Polanski's The Tenant (1976)

Title: The Tenant (1976)

Director/Writer: Roman Polanski

Cast: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani


After watching Polanski's Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and now The Tenant, I can see why they call these three films Polanski’s "Apartment Trilogy". They are three psychological horror films that all take place inside the claustrophobic confines of a small apartment. These three movies have a heck of a lot in common between them, and their similarities go way beyond the simple fact that they take place inside of an apartment. I’ll get to the similarities in a moment, but for now I want to say that these three films are three very solid Polanski’s films, anyone out there who hasnt seen either of these should make it a top priority!

The Tenant is about a young man named Trelkovsky, who is on the look out for a new apartment. When he finally finds one that he likes, it turns out that the previous owner jumped out the window in an attempted suicide. In spite of this, he still rents the apartment. He then decides to do a little detective work. So he decides to visit the apartment’s previous owner in the hospital to see how she is doing. Turns out she is catatonic, covered in bandages from head to tow! What could have driven her to suicide that way? Meanwhile, Trelkovsky new neighbors are driving him insane. He throws a party, they complain, he listens to the radio, they complain, if he does anything, they complain! What’s Trelkovsky to do living in a place where he apparently can’t even have a decent party in?

So this movie was amazing in my book, let’s get that out of the way! I had seen some of Polanski movies, but man, I was missing out on Repulsion and The Tenant in a big way! Had I known these two films were so good, I would have seen them a long time ago. As it is, I am an instant fan of these two awesome movies. What makes The Tenant so great you might ask? Well, let’s start by the setting. As part of Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” this one takes place almost entirely inside of Trelkovsky’s new apartment building. We are introduced to his new home via this long tracking shot of the building were we can appreciate its architecture, its windows, the nooks and crannies that make up the entire building. Italian horror director Dario Argento did a similar shot in Tenebrae, only here, in Polanski’s The Tenant this long shot of the building has a purpose. It serves as a way to introduce us to where the main character will be spending most of his time, and sets the atmosphere and tone for the entire picture. Argento’s ridiculously pointless tracking shot of a home in Tenebrae (that goes on forever and ever) goes absolutely nowhere. On The Tenant Polanski focuses on the shadows, the windows and the mysterious silhouettes that hide behind them. Awesome way to open a film, Polanski won me over right from the beginning of this film.

Yup, thats a decapitated head flying through the air!

Then we are slowly presented with the characters. And this was something I absolutely loved about this movie. How we slowly, but surely, get to know the characters of the piece. Its something that movies don’t take the time to do often these days. Trelkovsky, the films main character is played by none other than Roman Polanski himself. I have to hand it to Polanski, he is not a bad actor at all! The character is a mild mannered, intelligent, educated individual. He seems to be the kind of guy who would do anything to avoid problems with anyone. And he has just moved into a building in which apparently everyone is very conservative, very quiet, you know, people who like to do everything by the book. So apparently, everything is fine and dandy with this new apartment, except for the fact that the previous tenant tried to commit suicide which apparently is something that Trelkovsky is willing to live with.

As I mentioned before, The Tenant is a film that has many similarities with Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. With these three films, Polanski is criticizing the way people live in apartment buildings, inside of a box, inside of a limited space, and he comments on how this can contribute to drive a person insane after a while. In all three films, there is this feeling of paranoia that takes over the character, the walls, the lamps, the windows, all the little things that make up an apartment take a dark tone to them. Suddenly, that window over there looks evil somehow. Suddenly that chipped paint on the wall, makes everything look grimier, crazier. This is something that Polanski did a lot in Repulsion as well, and he does it yet again on The Tenant. The difference with The Tenant is that the emphasis is placed on the neighbors. In this way, The Tenant has more similarities with Rosemary’s Baby. You get the vibe that there is something not quite right with these neighbors. In fact, The Tenant feels a heck of a lot like The Wickerman (1973), where it feels like everybody is in on something, and the main character is the only one who doesn’t know it.

The film is very ambiguous with certain elements. Suddenly, you can get a supernatural vibe from the film, but you are never quite sure. This is really one of the best ways that a film can display supernatural elements, by doing so in an extremely subtle fashion. The Tenant might have supernatural elements to it…or does it? The answer to this question is never really given. Polanski seems more concerned with leaving you with a feeling of uncertainty. I have to applaud Polanski for creating such a feeling of dread and suspense with this movie. Best part? A lot of it is on your mind! Polanski leads you to believe certain things, and doesn’t exactly spell things out for you, but he grabs your attention that’s for sure! Much like Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, this is a film about a character’s decent into madness. It’s the kind of film where a character goes from completely normal to completely bonkers. By the time you reach the ending, the character isn’t the same one you met at the beginning of the film. He is the complete opposite! The different elements that drive Trelkovsky insane is what I found most interesting on this film.

If Repulsion was a film about a young woman who's antisocial behaviour drives her insane, and Rosemary’s Baby is about a character going insane because of a bunch of religious folks drive her to it, then The Tenant is a film about a person going insane because of society. As you can see,  insanity is another theme that ties these films together. Trelkovsky is a normal guy, who suddenly finds himself surrounded by a bunch of uptight, self righteous individuals with all these rules and regulations. They don’t let Trelkovsky live in peace. It gets to a point where he can’t do anything without someone complaining! To me this is Polanski criticizing society, and the idea that there is always somebody watching you, there is always somebody telling you what is right and what is wrong according to their point of view, and if you don’t subscribe to it, then you are wrong, and you must pay for it.

Theres something you dont see every day: Mr. Polanski in Drag!

It has been said that Polanski is a director who understands women and how they think and feel. And this much is true. Many of his films have a female protagonist. In films like Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby for example, we see the film through a females eyes. In The Tenant Polanski’s character tries to understand what drove a woman insane, and ends up almost turning into her. Through this film, Polanski also explores what homosexuals go through, and the rejection they get from society, and how this rejection, can drive people mad.

Essentially, what we got here is a film that’s speaks of how we sometimes try to be accommodating to others, we try to make everyone happy, but are they thinking of making you happy as well? Can society drive you nuts with all its rules and regulations? With their uptight self righteous way of thinking? Should we live like that? Always criticizing the next person, trying to make them be like us? Or should we all just let each other be the way we want to be? Interesting subject matter for sure, and one that is made all the more interesting because Polanski makes everything mysterious and ominous through his flawless direction. A perfect psychological thriller in my book, highly recommend it.

Rating: 5 out of 5
The TenantRepulsion- Criterion CollectionRosemary's Baby


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Good to see this reviewed Franco - In my opinion this is Polanski's best film by quite some distance. We should collaborate on another Top 5 soon - let me know if you have any thoughts.

Franco Macabro said...

I was impressed by this one! So tense, so suspensful. It has some really gripping moments...and what about those people staring from that window? That was so freaking weird!

Top Five Collaboration, sounds like a plan!

I Like Horror Movies said...

Brilliant review man! This film gets overlooked so often by newer audiences, when it absolutely ranks among Polanski's best work. It took me a second watch to think back and figure out many of the subtle clues after seeing the twist ending. Im a big fan!

Franco Macabro said...

Totally agree Carl, this is an overlooked Polanski film that needs to be seen by more people. I loved it so much, I am making it a permanent part of my collection.

Jan said...

This film is so intense and yet full of humour.
Never saw extreme psycho-horror go together with comedy. Makes me smoke.

Nick said...

Yes, it's a great overlooked Polanski film, but it should also be noted that it is best viewed in French w/English subtitles, as opposed to English. Given that it's filmed in Paris, and that every actor except Melvyn Douglas and Shelly Winters seems to be speaking in French, it only suits the context better to view it in French. It's difficult to tell which language Polanski's character is speaking in, but in the French version, it sounds like his voice speaking French. The dialogue also seems more detailed in the French version than in English.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree Nick, it's best viewed in French, I remember watching it for the first time I had a difficult time with the switch between languages, so I just watched it in French with subtitles, it is the best way to see it completely agree.

Erich von Abele said...

A rather belated comment. I agree with the reviewer here about The Tenant -- a very special movie, perhaps my favorite Polanski movie (though I may like "The Fearless Vampire Killers" better).

Does the reviewer know if Polanski used an actual apartment complex in Paris to film his movie in, or movie sets? If an actual apartment, which one...?

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Erich, comments are always welcome in all of my reviews! In regards to your question, the film was shot in France, but I have no idea if it was filmed in a real apartment or not.

But if it follows the way most films are made, I'm pretty sure it was a mix of both actual locations and sets that they built specifically for the film.

Thanks for commenting! By the way, I will be reviewing The Fearless Vampire Killers soon!


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