Saturday, October 2, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Tenant

The Tenant (1976)
Rated R (for language, sexual content, and violence)

Directed by Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski
Isabelle Adjani
Melvyn Douglas
Shelley Winters

Coming off of Rosemary's Baby, I watched Polanski's third film in his "Apartment Trilogy", The Tenant. Based on a 1964 French novel, Le Locataire Chimerique, by Roland Topor, The Tenant is the story of Trelkovsky, a Polish emigre to Paris who moves into a shabby, run-down apartment. He begins the film as a shy, well-mannered man who keeps to himself and ends up paranoid and hallucinating.

As the film begins, Trelkovsky inquires about an apartment his friend has told him about. After much cajoling (and a little bribery), he persuades the concierge to show him the apartment. The concierge, played by veteran actress Shelley Winters, informs him that the previous tenant, Simone Choule, "threw herself out the window" and then chuckles, gleefully running to the window to show him the skylights broken by the woman's fall. "She's not dead yet," the concerige says, "but she may as well be." When Trelkovsky asks what would happen if Simone got better, she replies, "She won't."

He decides to see Mademoiselle Choule at the hospital after speaking with the building's owner about the apartment. He is instructed not to speak to her because she just got out of a coma, but he is allowed to sit at her bedside. The woman is heavily bandaged and missing a front tooth. Trelkovsky is surprised by one of Simone's friends, Stella (Isabelle Adjani), who desperately pleads with her to speak. Suddenly, Simone lets out a terrible croaking scream and the two are instructed to leave by the head nurse. He later finds out that Simone has died of her injuries. This leaves him free to occupy her apartment.

Things begin to get stranger after he settles in. The neighbors continually complain about Trelkovsky making noise, even when he is not at home. He frequently sees neighbors staring at him from the window of the communal bathroom on the other side of the building. When rearranging furniture, he finds a tooth wrapped in cotton gauze and hidden in a hole in his wall behind an armoire.

The weirdness takes its toll on Trelkovsky. He begins to obsess about not making noise and he experiences bizarre compulsions and hallucinations. He comes to believe that everyone is conspiring against him, trying to force him to share Simone Choule's fate.

Unlike Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant starts out unsettling. The film is very bleak and moves steadily towards the bizarre. It's a thriller with a dash of French existentialism thrown in for good measure (think Camu's The Stranger meets Suspiria). Though it has some similar themes (paranoia, supernatural surrealism), it is easy to see why this film isn't as popular as Rosemary's Baby, especially here in the US. It's a decidedly European film with some very weird elements. While it is a beautiful and well-crafted film, it's definitely meant for film buffs and not casual viewers.

Fright Rating: 2 gasps out a possible five (mostly for sheer weirdness)

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