Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Tenant

Recently I watched Roman Polanski’s  film, ‘The Tenant’  (1976) based upon a novel by Roland Torpor. It’s the last in a trilogy of  Polanski's  so-called ‘Apartment’ films which includes  'Repulsion' (1965) and ‘Rosemary’s  Baby' (1968).

Unusually the central role is acted by Polanski himself who plays the part of  Trelkowski,  a polite and introverted young man  who rents an apartment in Paris with a disturbing history. When first viewing the apartment, the concierge (Shelley Winters) informs him that the apartment is only available because the previous tenant, Simone Chou jumped  from the fourth floor in a suicide attempt and is now critically injured in hospital. When Trelkowski visits Simone he discovers that she is bandaged from head to toe. He also meets Simone's friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani) at the hospital. However, when Simone sees Trelkowski, she emits a loud, blood-curdling scream.

Trelkowski soon comes to believe the various residents in the large apartment block are conspiring against him, subtly attempting to change him into the previous tenant Simone, no less; thus when asking for Gauloise cigarettes at a cafe he is repeatedly handed  a packet of Malboro, the choice of the previous tenant. Trelkowski soon comes to realise that the terms and conditions in renting his new Parisian apartment are near unendurable. Although he lives a quiet life neighbours constantly complain of his making noise, an evening entertaining his friends is curtailed by the Landlord who disapproves of his activities. Trelkowski becomes convinced that strange occurrences are happening in the large block of flats. He discovers a tooth embedded in the wall having recently lost a tooth himself and notices that various tenants stand transfixed and motionless in the bathroom opposite his flat for long periods.

Trelkowski's basic good nature is highlighted when Rufus, a young man who had a romantic attachment to Simone visits him. Rufus breaks down when informed that Simone attempted suicide and  has died as a result of her injuries, however, Trelkowski spends a long evening consoling and drinking with him. The two part company at  dawn at a Metro station  with Rufus pleading eternal gratitude for Trelkowski's kindness.

It's when Trelkowski comes home one day to discover his flat has been burgled and many valuable items gone that he begins to break down. Convinced that the residents are attempting to make him change into Simone and commit the same act of suicide, he buys a wig and dresses in clothes left by her in the wardrobe. He then sits  out the night in his cross-dressing clothes waiting for his would-be assailants.

‘The Tenant’ is a film of pure Kafkaesque nightmare and hallucinatory paranoia as it draws to its inexorable conclusion. The genius of Polanski’s direction ensures that the viewer is never completely sure as to how much the conspiracy  Trelkowski believes is happening  to him is in his imagination and how much is for real.

Some critics have called 'The Tenant' a slow and clumsy film, however Polanski’s  more than competent acting, ably supported by  a very young Isabelle Adjani, who becomes his lover too late to rescue him from his fate, ensures that ‘The Tenant’ is as disturbing to view now as when first screened in 1976.



teegee said...

That seems worthwhile. His films came out when I was out of circulation, so I never saw any of them. Though he was very imprudent, I think he's been treated horribly.

Rise said...

I'm reading Kafka's The Trial and the "mistaken identity" is quite pronounced in the novel. I was trying to envision Josef K being driven to cross-dress in order to evade his captors! ... but maybe he's too complacent and proud for that.... I think Trelkowski will also look comfortable in one of Simenon's romans durs.

Hydriotaphia said...

Hi Teegee!

'Imprudent but treated horribly' seems an apt definition of Polanski's trials and errors.

Hi Rise! One critic once stated that the whole art of Kafka is to force the reader to re-read, so good luck there! 'The Castle' and 'America' are also well worth reading. K.'s influence is enormous in the literary world and one does wonder whether Polanski might have learned a trick or two from him as regards 'mistaken identity' a real reality in these days of computer data-bases!