After the success and critical acclaim of his noir masterpiece CHINATOWN in 1974, director Roman Polanski returned to the horror genre with the much less noticed THE TENANT. Like in two earlier thrillers, REPULSION (1965) and ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), THE TENANT details the plight of a protagonist suffering from paranoia within an apartment complex. Based on a novel by late actor Roland Topor, with a screenplay by Polanski and frequent collaborator Gérard Brach, the film certainly deserves a place besides the two aforementioned, better known classics.
Not allowing himself to take a lead role in his own film since THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1976), Polanski here stars as Trelkovsky, a somewhat shy and mild-mannered office clerk living in Paris. Trelkovsky takes resident in an archaic residential building after being given a third degree interview by its old landlord (Melvyn Douglas). The unfriendly concierge (Shelley Winters) makes it known that the previous occupant of the toilet-less flat was a young woman who attempted suicide by leaping from a window, and she now awaits death in a hospital bed.
Trelkovsky is not put off by the morbid incident, but he quickly becomes interested in the former tenant and decides to pay a visit to her in the hospital. He discovers a hapless victim in slings, wrapped from head to toe in bandages with only a piecing eye and busted teeth revealed. There, he meets her sobering friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani) and without having to say much, leads on that he is also a friend of the suffering girl. The two form a flirtatious friendship, but he doesn't tell her right away about where he resides.
We then witness Trelkovsky's boring life, working at a desk all day, then coming home to cook canned food on his rusty stove. Things become more tense as the other mostly elderly residents start accusing him of making too much noise night after night, something he can't fathom. He constantly finds himself unfairly intimidated by them, and has illusions of people staying perfectly still in the bathroom across the way. Other hallucinations occur, and Trelkovsky begins to take on the identity of the former tenant (sometimes in drag) and his heightened suspicion of an outward conspiracy is seemingly leading him to insanity.
THE TENANT is ambiguous in its narrative, up until the final shot, but its a rewarding one at that. Polanski is perfectly cast as the central character, and really knows how to play it to perfection, even tingeing it with black humor. A great supporting cast of Americans and French is only hampered somewhat by the unconvincing re-dubbing of the French actors--even Adjani in a rare unglamorous role had her heavy accent synched over. The film gives us a very haunting vision of modern Paris, and the crumbling apartment setting--with its spiral staircases and oddball inhabitants-- a fittingly ghostly setting. Don't let the lengthy running time discourage you; THE TENANT is a mesmerizing cinematic experience by one of its most talented filmmakers.
One of their most requested library titles on the format, Paramount has finally released THE TENANT on DVD with a not surprisingly first-rate transfer. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with Anamorphic enhancement. Though Polanski shot the film with grayer color schemes, the transfer gives us a nice reproduction of them, and sharpness and detail are excellent throughout. The source material is in flawless shape, and not a nick or a single piece of dirt is to be found. The Dolby Digital mono sound is perfect throughout with crystal clear dialog, and a French language track is also offered with optional English subtitles.
No extras are included except
for a one-minute trailer which almost plays like a teaser. I wish there was
at least a featurette, since the recent Oscar-winning Polanski did interviews
for Paramount's discs of ROSEMARY'S BABY and CHINATOWN. But having a beautiful
transfer of the film on DVD is enough to be thanks for, and hopefully this release
will help this gem get rediscovered. (George R. Reis)
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