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Monday, 3 January 2011

Film Review - The Tenant 1979

Fig.1 The Tenant Film Poster

Director Roman Polanski completed his trilogy of films about social isolation and paranoia with his 1979 film The Tenant. All three films tell the same story of that which seems to be a well-balanced individual who has some kind of well-buried psychological problem. With the individuals ending up being driven to lose their sanity as a consequence of their growing suspicion of those who surround them.

Polanski stars as Trelkovsky, a Polish-born French Citizen, who is moving into an old apartment block in Paris. He then learns that the pervious tenant, Simone Choule, leapt from the upstairs apartment windows in an attempt to commit suicide. Learning this he feels compelled to visit her in hospital. At the bedside of the dying women he meets Stella. He claims to be one of her friends. From Stella he learns some facts about the personality of Simone. When Choule sees Trelkovsky standing over her, she seems to recognize him and lets out a scream of Terror before dying.

Fig.2 The Tenant Film Still

Returning to his apartment Trelkovsky is warned by his landlord not to make any noise at night times, but every movement he makes, the neighbours knocked on his wall demanding he be quiet. Trelkovsky does everything he could to keep his neighbours happy but they continue to treat him with contempt and hostility. Because of this he suspects that they may have driven Choule to commit suicide. Believing that they are doing the same to him and with this in his mind he starts to imagines some bizarre things.

He sees the other tenants standing motionlessly in the toilet room opposite his apartment window and he finds a hole in the wall with a human tooth concealed in it. With time he begins to take on Choule’s personality traits. At first they are simple little things, like smoking Choule’s brand of cigarettes and it extend to even cross-dressing. Trelkovsky was convinced that his neighbours were determined to kill him by driving him insane. Eventually with the loss of his identity and his obsession with Choule leads him to the recreation of her suicide attempt. Awakening in the hospital, he finds himself wrapped up in bandages and when he opens his eyes he sees Stella and himself standing over him. Exactly as it was when he visited Choule in the hospital at the beginning of the film, he opens his mouth and lets out a chilling scream.

The Tenant is short on your typical horror movie action with no monsters and little in the way of suspense, both of which are seen in most horror films.  Polanski’s film is not operating on the kind of fear that these films exploit - the fear of death. Instead The Tenant focuses on a much more disturbing fear, the loss of identity.

Fig.3 The Tenant Film Still

The Tenant is Polanski at his funniest but Polanski at his funniest is also Polanski at his creepiest. And with this The Tenant is as rich in scary moments as it is in laughs which were often simultaneousness.  Also with this film “The horror is macabre, and provided in clearly observed bursts.” (Euker, 2003) This is surely Polanski’s style as it can be seen in his two films before Repulsion 1965 and Rosemary Baby 1968. There are several scenes throughout the film that Polanski declines to make sense of what is happening leaving the mystery unresolved. This could also be said to be a style that Polanski uses within his films. A great scene where this happens is when a ball bounces with supernatural uniformity before his apartment window. Examining it closely we find out that it is actually a human head.

Fig.4 The Tenant Film Still

Polanski was indeed a man with a troubled past and the fact that Polanski himself play’s the lead character in his film is revealing. He was someone who had a good reason to maybe be slightly paranoid or can even be said to be mistrustful and “His cinema has forever mirrored the many physical and psychological obstruction in his life” (Schager, 2003) One scene that stands out is the moment when Trelkovsky is asked whether “he will be entertaining ladies in the evening and making lots of noise”. Trelkovsky responds that he is not that kind of man. Well now we can see the irony in this scene because of course a year later Polanski fled the country, after being convicted of statutory rape.

Fig.5 The Tenant Film Still

The Tenant “is full of shock moments and builds to an incredible twisted revelation at the end” (Hill, 2001) which was all down to Polanski’s direction which was brilliant. He doesn’t rush anything, allowing the character to go about their business and then subtly builds in a growing sense of unease. Polanski has made the setting realistic with the fear built around things that are explainable or ordinary. But filmed in the right way have become frightening. Also along with inventive camera angles, the sense of perspective in some scenes and lighting all have made this film what it is.

“The Tenant is a fantastic paranoid delusion of a film.” (Hill, 2001) that is genuinely chilling, that creates this unbearable feeling of tension when watched.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. The Tenant (1976) The Tenant Filmm Poster.
se%26id%3D_13549_1%26url%3D (Accessed on 02/01/2011)
Figure 2. The Tenant (1976) The Tenant Film Still. (Accessed on 02/01/2011)

Figure 4. The Tenant (1976) The Tenant Film Still.
(Accessed on 02/01/2011)
Figure 5. The Tenant (1976) The Tenant Film Still.
(Accessed on 02/01/2011)


Euker, Jake (2003) the Tenant (Review). (Accessed on 02/01/2011)
Schager, Nick (2003) The Tenant (Movie Review). (Accessed on 30/12/2010)
Hill, Simon (2001) The Tenant (Review). (Accessed on 02/01/2011)
Hill, Simon (2001) The Tenant (Review). (Accessed on 02/01/2011)

Figure 3. The Tenant (1976) The Tenant Film Still.
(Accessed on 02/01/2011)

1 comment:

  1. Nice review, Sasha - you're nearly up-to-date - great; and I particularly liked the way you've woven some of Polanski's biographical detail into your review too.