Written by Gerard Brach and Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Roland Topor
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Roman Polanski, Shelly Winters, Isabella Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet
Released by: Paramount Home Video.
My Advice: Fans should rent. Others should rent something else.
Like many large metropolises, Paris has a dearth of good living space. Monsieur Trelkovsky (Polanski) obtains his right after the last occupant, Simone Choule, jumped out the window and died soon after. But even as he moves in, bits of Simone’s life are still present…including some of her possessions as well as her friends like the liberated Stella (Adjani). His noxious neighbors, the imperious landlord Monsieur Zy (Douglas), the building busybody Madame Dioz (Van Fleet), and the hostile concierge (Winters), seem intent on stressing him out. They complain about the noise when he makes none, they seem to allow a burglary of his place, and they all stand still in the lavatory where he can observe them for no reason. Is all this a plot to drive him to suicide or is all this a product of his own paranoid delusions? How long is Monsieur Trelkovsky going to remain as…The Tenant?
Roman Polanski is one fucked-up son of a bitch. And no, I’m not talking about what might immediately spring to mind. I just did not need to see Polanski in drag…but more about it in a minute. The concept is good: the city with its people bunched together, the weight of the past on us and that while Hell can be other people, we can be our own enemy too. The problem is the execution of it all is a total mess. It feels like he wanted to remind the audience that he could still be a New Wave auteur after the Hollywood success of Chinatown. And of course it comes off like he’s trying too hard. What should be an edgy blend of reality and fantasy becomes a confusing muddle. Elements like finding a tooth in a wall or the dead girl’s interest in Egyptology make no sense either to advance character or plot, nor as effective symbolism.
And what possessed Polanski to take the lead role? He’s had small roles before, but this needed an actor to convey the oversensitive nature of Trelkovsky, how he lives too much in his own head, and feels so unimportant he almost needs to believe he is the center of a murderous plot. Polanski is a great director, but his acting leaves much to be desired. Polanski does convey Trelkovsky’s inability to relate to people, but considering Polanski’s background and subsequent behavior, I don’t think that’s acting. And parading in full drag, seemingly channeling the dead girl’s spirit, for a good portion of movie seems even creepier with his legal problems. This is obviously a personal film for Polanski, but sometimes you have to trust your vision to others so they add their creativity and make it stronger. It’s a shame that Polanski couldn’t do this.
It’s also a shame that Polanski didn’t make a commentary, but I’ve read that he usually doesn’t revisit his old movies. They could have gotten a film historian or one of the co-stars, but since this is one of Polanski’s lesser known works, I guess they didn’t want to spend the money. Still, The Tenant will be enjoyed by fans of his work. Other people might want to check out Chinatown or Frantic instead.