Thursday, February 16, 2023


Spoiler Alert: Crucial plot points are revealed in the interest of critical analysis and discussion

Somewhere beyond the boundaries of the healthy, adaptive kind of Cultural Paranoia that I, a Black gay man, accesses daily to navigate hostile environments of discrimination and racial bias; on the far side of whatever amorphous fears are harbored by the kind of people who routinely dress in fatigues and buy anything with the word “Tactical” on the packaging; past the limits of the alternately narcissistic/masochistic borders of “Everyone’s out to get me!” delusional paranoia…there lies the macabre Twilight Zone that is Roman Polanski’s brilliant The Tenant. A bizarre, Kafkaesque exploration of social alienation and encroaching madness that film critic Vincent Canby accurately described as a nightmare vision of “Emotional isolation that becomes physical.”
Adapted for the screen with almost religious faithfulness by Polanski and longtime collaborator Gerard Brach from the 1964 novel Le Locataire Chimérique by Roland Topor, The Tenant marks the Academy Award-winning director’s 9th feature film. It also marks what many consider to be the third and final entry in his unofficial Urban Paranoia Trilogy (aka, his Apartment Trilogy): Repulsion – 1965, Rosemary’s Baby – 1965, & The Tenant – 1976. 
For his part, Polanski flatly denies ever deliberately setting out to make a contemporary terror triptych. But admirers of his work have seized upon the thematic recurrence in these films of many of the director’s most fervent obsessions: paranoia, alienation, sex, psychosis, subjective reality, and cramped dwellings. Each film in the trilogy is a modern-gothic study of urban dread set in a different, obliquely-threatening, impersonal city (London, Manhattan, and Paris, respectively). Their eerie narratives unfold largely within the oppressive confines of decaying apartment structures, wherein rooms take on the character of four-walled prisons-of-the-mind, mirroring the progressive mental deterioration of their psychologically isolated protagonists.
The lead character in The Tenant is male (Polanski himself, his 3rd on-screen appearance in one of his own films), signifying the trilogy’s sole departure from having a woman as the central focus of a storyline. 
It's neither coy nor misleading when I say that The Tenant does not disrupt the gender prominence of the trilogy. 
Roman Polanski as Trelkovsky
Isabelle Adjani as Stella
Shelley Winters as The Concierge
Melvyn Douglas as Monsieur Zy
Jo Van Fleet as Madame Dioz
Lila Kedrova as Madame Gaderian

There's a scene in the movie musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever where Barbra Streisand—as wallflower go-a-longer Daisy Gamble—discloses to hypnotherapist Yves Montand the results of a vocational guidance test: "Healthy, adjusted, and no character. I mean, no character of any kind. I mean, not even any…characteristics!”
Well, that describes The Tenant's Monsieur Trelkovsky in a nutshell. Trelkovsky, a soft-spoken Polish-born office clerk of indeterminate disposition who continually has to remind people he’s a French citizen, is a fellow who tiptoes through life as though he holds only a month-to-month tenancy on his own body.
During what can only be assumed to be a severe mid-‘70s Parisian housing shortage, Trelkovsky is so desperate for lodgings that he pursues—with a self-interest bordering on the ghoulish—the not-yet-vacated apartment of a not-yet-dead attempted suicide. The tenant, a young Egyptologist named Simone Choule, threw herself from the window of her flat just days before and now lies in a coma at a nearby hospital.
Faced with a moral conundrum (his wish to acquire the apartment is the silent, simultaneous wish that she won’t recover), Trelkovsky, in a gesture bearing the outward appearance of sympathy, but could just as likely be a cagey "calculation of probability" field trip—visits Mlle Choule in the hospital. Wrapped head to toe in bandages, the Egyptologist indeed looks like a mummy herself, with nothing of the woman beneath visible save for a single staring eye and a gaping mouth from which a tooth is conspicuously, grotesquely missing.
Presented as though it were a bonus feature of the apartment, the concierge shows
Trelkovsky the hole Simone Choule's body made in the glass awning four stories below
Simone Choule dies shortly after this visit (brought to a jarring conclusion when the patient lets out a soul-rattling scream at the sight of the stranger at her bedside). And Trelkovsky—pragmatically heedless of any possible bad omens augured by gaining advantageous self-benefit at the price of another's misfortune—wastes no time moving into the apartment. An apartment that hasn’t yet been entirely cleared of the dead woman’s possessions.

Early scenes show Trelkovsky getting what he wants by adopting a persona of over-polite inoffensiveness (e.g., he finesses the bulldoggish concierge by paying her a gratuity and placates the surly landlord by appealing to his financial practicality). These passively assertive acts suggest that perhaps Trelkovsky’s outwardly suppressed identity is more of an adaptive skill; a tool a Polish émigré hones in a city where being “foreign” instantly brands one a target of suspicion and distrust.
Presuming that a certain characterlessness and malleability of personality are what Trelkovsky has always relied upon as a survival mechanism to go about life as unobtrusively as possible; The Tenant effectively puts the turn to the screw by making this quality in Trelkovsky...a “vacancy of self”...the tragic flaw that will come to seal his fate. 
Though interested in Simone's friend, Stella, Trelkovsky, by lying about knowing Simone and keeping his occupancy of her apartment a secret, must keep part of his true identity hidden.  

The apartment building Trelkovsky now calls home can be summed up by a term coined in Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery; a neurotic’s jackpot. Almost immediately after moving in, Trelkovsky begins to suspect every tenant of being a furtive, inhospitable oddball who, when not lodging noise complaints about his every move; monitoring his comings and goings; or staring into his apartment from windows across the courtyard, is working in concert in a plot to get him to somehow become Simon Choule and give an encore performance of her dramatically gravitational exit.

But after an incident at Simone's funeral (where his sexual guilt turns a eulogy into a fire and brimstone lambaste), it's apparent Trelkovsky isn't what you'd call a reliable narrator. 

Thus, The Tenant builds suspense by sustaining a disconcertingly ambiguous tone throughout. One is never quite sure whether Trelkovsky's horrors are psychological (a mental breakdown), sociological (xenophobia), or supernatural (anyone for a mummy’s curse?)
Trelkovsky: Tomb Raider
Clockwise from top left: 1. The mummified Simone Choule. 2. Trelkovsky receives a postcard of an Egyptian sarcophagus. 3. In a hallucinative state, Trelkovsky sees Egyptian hieroglyphs on the building’s communal bathroom wall. 4. Trelkovsky is given one of Simone's books, The Romance of a Mummy by Théophile Gautier (1858). 

Simone being an Egyptologist, rather than merely being a bit of backstory info about the former renter, becomes a prominent theme underscoring the somewhat paranormal shift The Tenant takes in its second act. The fact that so many of Simone Choule’s left-behind items (books, drawings, sculpture) reflect her interest and immersion in the culture of ancient Egypt makes Trelkovsky’s swift occupancy of her apartment feel as though he’s somehow disturbing the resting space of the deceased. Similarly, the Egyptian belief in immortality, with its attendant burial rituals devoted to preserving the body and the soul's rebirth, finds its queasy contemporary correlative in Simone Choule’s medical mummification. Swathed in bandages, Simone and her staring eye and missing tooth horrifically reference the Egyptian “opening of the mouth” ceremony; a rite performed to return the human senses to the soul in the afterlife.
Self-Alienation / Fragmented Identity
Trelkovsky’s “possession” by Simone is entirely superficial (he gains absolutely no insight into the woman’s self) signaling his metamorphosis is more a self-generated delusion than an act of actually "becoming" Choule. Amounting to little more than the appropriation of only the most external signifiers of Simone's identity—clothes, makeup, cigarettes, hot chocolate, books—Trelkovsky turning into Simone feels less like The Tenant seeking to explore the flexible quadrants of gender and more like surrealists Topor and Polanski merely attaching existential theory to the question "Do clothes make the (wo)man?"
Trelkovsky's one success at making human contact.
Unable to prevent his own suicide, Trelkovsky intervenes in the possible suicide of Simone's unrequited suitor George Bedar (played by Jacques Narcy). Bedar's romantic misdirection (he was apparently unaware of Simone's disinterest in men) mirrors Trelkovsky's inert sexuality

In Rosemary’s Baby, Polanski toyed with the notion of ancient evil (pagan witchcraft and Satan worship) surviving into the 20th century. A similar vein is mined in The Tenant’s paralleling of Egyptian mythology (immortality and the dominance of the soul in determining self) with the dissociative aspects of modern urban life (the separate-yet-together existence of apartment-dwelling) that prioritize the individual. I.e., a civilization that values holed-up privacy, solitude, keeping to oneself, and minding one’s own business can foster relativism and the solipsistic view that the mind alone is sovereign of the self.
But if the mind is the sole determiner of self, is each person then ruled by their own individual perception of reality?

Heads, attached and disembodied, figure as a motif in The Tenant. Ceramic busts appear in the apartments of Trelkovsky (Egyptian, of course) and Mr. Zy. Trelkovsky has a hallucination that his neighbors are playing football with a human head (Simone's or his own) in the courtyard
A drunk Trelkovsky ponders the philosophical, metaphysical,
and mythical concepts of "self"
The Tenant premiered at The Regency Theater in San Francisco in the summer of 1976, and I was beyond excited to see it. Expectations were high, as it had been two years since the release of Chinatown. The Tenant’s chilling teaser trailer (with the soon-to-be-unfortunate tagline “No one does it to you like Roman Polanski”) promised a welcome return to type from the director who scared the hell out of me when I was eleven with what was then...and still #1 favorite motion picture of all time: Rosemary’s Baby.
The Wide-Angle Distorted Perception Peephole Shot
Repulsion - Rosemary's Baby - The Tenant

It's not overstatement when I say The Tenant had me from the jump (pun possibly intended). After the sun-baked Southern California vistas of Chinatown, I was delighted with Polanski’s return to creepily claustrophobic interiors, menacing old people, and his lived-in, off-kilter brand of psychological horror. A movie that hits the ground running—with a dizzying, voyeuristic panning shot of apartment windows, revealing shifting glimpses of both Trelkovsky and Simone Choule staring through curtains at “the real(?)” Trelkovsky entering the courtyard to inquire about the availability of the apartment he already appears to be occupying—The Tenant is a film that wears its weirdness on its sleeve. 
That's the film's composer Philippe Sarde as the theater patron who prefers
watching Trelkovsky and Stella to watching the movie screen. It's a running paradox
in The Tenant that Trelkovsky's privacy decreases as his alienation increases.

Given invaluable, atmospheric assist by Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist and French composer Philippe Sarde, Polanski, in adapting Roland Topor’s novel, proves, as he did with Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, he's adept at making someone else's nightmares seem as though they originated out of his own well-stocked store of personal demons and obsessions. Sharing Topor’s outsider's eye for finding the ominous in the ordinary (both are Paris-born sons of Polish-Jewish immigrant parents), the close-quarters dictates of The Tenant's setting allow Polanski to indulge his trademark canniness in turning living environments into starkly-rendered extensions of a character’s inner dread.  
Roland Topor, the surrealist artist, novelist, and playwright behind The Tenant, played
 Renfield opposite Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu (1979). Topor's scatological preoccupations, dark humor, and absurdist worldview find their aesthetic twin in Polanski.

Psychological thrillers about personality theft, duality, and the fluidity of identity have fascinated me…forever. Especially when they spill over into possible supernatural/horror territory. Growing up the only boy of five children, parents divorced/mom remarries, Catholic school, gay, shy, and the only Black family in an all-white neighborhood gave me a leg-up in the “Who the fuck am I?” adolescent identity sweepstakes. So, films were my retreat, and movies that (melo)dramatized the puzzle of self: Vertigo (1958), The Servant (1963), Secret Ceremony (1968), Performance (1970), Images (1972), Obsession (1976), 3 Women (1977), Fedora (1978), Dead Ringers (1988), Single White Female (1992), and Black Swan (2010)—were my catharsis.
My recently having had the opportunity to read the novel prompted my partner and me to watch The Tenant last Halloween. My first time seeing the film in several years. This time out, I was struck by how many of the persecutory torments pushing Trelkovsky to the brink of madness (being persistently watched, always having his behavior monitored, instantly being branded a target of suspicion, prejudicially profiled, having his experience invalidated) is kinda like an average day for a Black person living in America. 
The terrorism of racism and "Living While Black" has always resulted in feelings of alienation, isolation, and anxiety among Black people, and movies like The Tenant have been a means of accessing those fears in a broad, generalized context. However, it wasn't until the release of 1995's Tales from the Hood by Rusty Cundieff, and Jordan Peele's Get Out (2017) that I ever saw a director illuminate the anxieties particular to racism and unique to the Black Experience in this country in the form and context of the horror genre.

The American cast members of The Tenant

Polanski started out as an actor (and never stopped, if all those behind-the-scenes photos of him “directing by demonstrating” tell the tale), so I wasn’t really surprised by how effective he is in the role of Trelkovsky. Casting himself very much to type, Polanski essentially IS the Trelkovsky of Topor’s novel...there being the shadow of something unsavory about him even at his most vulnerable. And he's particularly persuasive in conveying the anxiety and jumpy self-absorption that accompanies his character’s intensifying psychotic delusions. 
I've no idea what motivated Polanski to cast so many American actors in major roles in this Paris-set thriller (likely financial in origin, to secure American distribution or wide release). But the overall effect is so discordant it actually feels intentional. The clashing of Trelkovsky’s faint Polish accent against all those flat Yankee diphthongs dramatically emphasizes his "otherness.". At the same time, the incongruousness of the glaringly non-Gallic Shelly Winters, Jo Van Fleet, and Melvyn Douglas only seem to add another layer of wacko to The Tenant’s existing Theater of the Absurd vision of Paris. 
French cinema icon Claude Daupin makes a brief appearance (with Louba Guertchikoff)
 but his mellifluous accent is dubbed over with an affectless American voice 
Unfortunately, a similar decision to have many members of the film's French supporting cast dubbed (poorly) by American actors doesn't fare nearly as well. Certainly, a case could be made that those braying American voices coming out of the mouths of Trelkovsky's boorish friends is a reflection of how he sees them, but I only found it distracting. Polanski's eye for casting people with unusual and characterful faces is as sharp as ever, but hearing those commonplace voices coming out of those unorthodox faces was like having ice water thrown in my face. It jolts me out of the atmospheric dream world I'd rather be immersed in. 
Although sorely underutilized, I adore Isabelle Adjani in The Tenant. I only recently learned that Adjani's voice was dubbed by Dark Shadows actress Kathryn Leigh Scott. Seen here with Sam Waterston in 1974's The Great Gatsby

Polanski films are always rich in visual motifs, and The Tenant is no exception. The aforementioned Egyptian details, mummification references, and emphasis on all things cranial. Present, too, are his amplified ticking clocks and distorted perception shots of hallways and rooms (in particular, a fabulous fever dream sequence where Trelkovsky is dwarfed by the furniture in his room).
La Peinture Lure (Hello, Google Translate)
It seems Polanski hired Roland Topor to paint this mystifying poster
that appears frequently and enigmatically throughout the film

But in a film about paranoia, it's simply genius to have so many characters sporting those ginormous spectacles that were so popular in the '70s. They're like portable windows with magnified eyes staring out at Trelkovsky. 
The Tenant is one of my top five favorite Roman Polanski films. It's an intriguing puzzle that yields a different solution every time I watch it.

The First-Time Tenant
I moved to Los Angeles in 1978, and my very first apartment was a small furnished single on the second floor of The Villa Elaine Apartments in Hollywood. I was 20 years old, my first time away from home, and I couldn’t believe I was living within walking distance of THE Hollywood and Vine. The rent was $160 a month, including utilities, and I was in absolute heaven. Built in 1925, The Villa Elaine has since been declared a historical landmark. My old apartment now goes for $1650.
My Apartment Is In Here Somewhere
I lived in the Villa Elaine until 1981, moving to a courtyard-view apartment in 1979 that afforded a Rear Window panorama of my neighbors. Note the poster for The Tenant at bottom left
The day I moved into The Villa Elaine was Sunday, June 4, 1978. A date whose significance was compounded by what happened after I’d settled in and kissed my parents (who’d driven me and my blue storage trunk down from Berkeley for a weekend of whirlwind apartment-hunting) goodbye.
To exercise my freedom, I went out to look at my "new neighborhood." My walk took me to Hollywood Blvd., where the movie Grease was having its World Premiere at Mann's Chinese Theater. In those days, onlookers could stand and star-gaze in relative close proximity behind a velvet rope, so I was overjoyed at experiencing a real-life The Day of the Locust moment (minus the apocalyptic carnage) and screamed along with the rest when Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta arrived in a vintage car.
As I walked back to my apartment, the 1977 Rufus & Chaka Khan song “Hollywood” playing on a loop in my head; I was thoroughly over the moon. I couldn’t believe my first night in LA had serendipitously yielded such a quintessential, only-in-Hollywood experience. All of which I, of course, took as an omen that I had found my new home. And I guess it was; June 4th of 2023 will mark my 45th Anniversary as an LA resident.
The Villa Elaine courtyard as it looks today
I’ve lived in many apartments over the years, and I'm happy to say I've never had an experience even remotely similar to what’s in The Tenant.

Copyright © Ken Anderson    2009  -  2023


  1. Ken, this is one of my big favorites too. I saw it for the first time at a revival house during my Great Cinema Plunge of 1980-1981 and have watched this clever slice of paranoia many times since. I'm glad you mentioned composer Sarde. Isn't the wonderful score for this eerie, mysterious and beautiful?

    I know what you mean about some of the crassly dubbed American voices. The last time I watched my DVD of this film, I played it with the French audio track. Those housewarming friends of Trelkovsky's sound more normal, especially that one quacking blonde woman who now is suave in French. But I do prefer the English dub for George Bedar - he's so much appropriately querulous and sad-voiced than the French language version. I'm always fascinated/sympathetic of the scene where the tough guy strides into the bar where Trelkovsky and Bedar are commiserating and he bellows out, "Drinks for everyone!" and then pointing out Bedar adds, "except for HIM!" Such a mean-spirited detail!

    Apparently, they tried to make Isabelle Adjani look like a "frump" as though it's possible to disguise her beauty! And I still get chills when Trelkovsky spies out his window to the bathroom across the courtyard and sees...well, I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen this yet...

    1. Hi Mark – I saw on your blog that you rated this #7 of your favorite films of 1976!
      It’s always been a favorite of mine, but for the longest time, that felt like being in a fan club of one. THE TENANT has found its audience over the years, but back in 1976, released under the shadow of CHINATOWN, it was met with the kind of high expectations a quirky film like this could never live up to.
      I saw it three times that summer—opening weekend, it was packed. Then, four weeks later, I saw it in a near empty 2nd-run theater playing on a double bill with “Repulsion.”

      It’s an incredibly atmospheric movie, and indeed, the score for it is excellent. I’ve listened to the soundtrack on YouTube and it’s one of my favorite movie scores.

      Also, it’s fascinating to learn that THE TENANT was released with the French audio track! I had no idea. After all these years, I suspect it would feel like a totally new film to me not to hear those braying American voices.
      And I’m intrigued by what you cite as an improvement with the dubbing of the George Bedar character. I love the entire sequence in which he appears. And yes, that bit with the bar loudmouth is such a crushing coup de grâce to his suffering.

      And I agree with you about Isabelle Adjani…whatever efforts or motivations were behind the desire to hire one of the most beautiful women in films and then try to hide her behind giant specs, frizzy hair, and lumpy clothes were for naught. She remains a stunner even if her character isn’t supposed to be.
      And yes…that scene where Trelkovsky looks out the window to see…
      What a chiller of a moment! THE TENANT really has a lot of terrific low-boil scares. They kind of sneak up on you.
      Thank you very much, Mark, for reading this post so soon and sharing your welcome thoughts and history as one who also appreciates this fascinating and strange film.

    2. Ken, as always, I appreciate your detailed responses to people's comments.
      I'm always reviewing my movie lists. (I just revised 1994 today - I had to add my recently seen viewing of "Widows' Peak" and also added some '94 films on my "need to see" list that I had missed when I first made that page.) I probably should get to 1976 soon as #7 seems too low for a film like "The Tenant" that I've been such a geek about for a long time.
      I note that I have no bold-face (5-star) movies for '76 whereas 1975 is loaded with them. Such are the ways one year can differ from the next!

    3. Given how it is so often overlooked or dismissed, I was impressed THE TENANT made your 1976 Top Ten. But I know what you mean about the reassessment factor. Some movies we like only reveal the true depth of their significance to us with the passage of time. I've always liked THE TENANT, but after seeing it again after such a long hiatus, it has only risen to an even higher position of esteem in my mind.

  2. The glasses!!! How true. I'm amazed at what's eyewear in 2023, the 70's windshields are back with twice as much frame. Crazy. Anyway I haven't seen this movie yet but enjoyed reading about it, your Hollywood apartment and feelings of alienation. It gives me something to think about. This reminded me of the movie "Apartment Zero" with Colin Firth which I loved.

    1. Hi Loulou - Thank you for revisiting this blog.
      "Windshields" Ha! But it's so true. Brobdingnagian eyewear is back with a vengeance. Also, there are elements similar to that film "Apartment Zero" in "The Tenant" ...certainly as it pertains to the way a small living space can be made to feel quite menacing. If you liked "Apartment Zero" maybe you'd like "The Perfect Host" (2010) a quirky chiller about apartments and neighbors that stars David Hyde Pierce and features Helen Reddy(!).
      Always appreciate your reading my posts and commenting, Loulou!

  3. Hi Ken,

    Definitely a great film, although it is a pity that it has not received more recognition compared to other titles in Polanski's filmography. However, your detailed analysis certainly does it justice. On the other hand, the story of your beginnings in that big city where you live is very emotional.


    1. Hello Juan - Nice to hear from you again. Thank you for sharing your appreciation of THE TENANT. I never know if it's relative obscurity is born of people not caring for it (It has more in common with his short films and movies like Cul-De-Sac than CHINATOWN and his more accessible mainstream films), or if its reputation as a flop has kept people from checking it out for themselves.
      I was curious if you'd written about THE TENANT and was so pleased to find the most comprehensive look at Polanski's work I've seen online. A brief look turned into a long visit. Hope you don't mind my including a link to THE TENANT here:
      Lastly, glad you enjoyed the mini-bio segment. I'm at that age when a look back at the road traveled proves to be a remarkably edifying experience.
      Thanks for reading this essay, Juan!

  4. Yay!! You've finally gotten around to my favorite horror movie!

    When I try to explain The Tenant to people, I start with, "Other people make horror movies about being alone in creaky old houses. Polanski makes horror movies about being in apartment buildings with OTHER PEOPLE." Is it clear that that's only a triptych? I've never seen Cul de Sac (with Deneuve's sister) but it sounded like it might fit the pattern.

    There's a standard trick in horror movies where the tension ratchets up and up in some scene and whoosh we cut to something calm and familiar, probably on a bright sunny day, for the audience to let out their bated breath. The Tenant does this too, cutting to Trelkovsky alone in his room, in drag. (At a point by which time, this behavior is calm and familiar.) Such an inspired subversion of the trope.

    I was sure I recognized a young Rufus as the suitor, who I knew better from Jeunet's films (Delicatessen and Amelie). But I guess this was from before he changed his name from Jacques Narcy and started collaborating with Chaka Khan.

    1. Hi Allen-
      That’s a superb comparison you make between the typical horror movie and what becomes horrific under the aegis of Polanski. The scene you cite perfectly illustrates how Polanski’s films can feel “off” to those used to traditional horror's familiar rhythms and structures.
      His movies are so disturbing and so effectively subvert the tropes of the genre that my early exposure to them somewhat ruined my ever getting worked-up over the slasher films and body-count horror movies of the following decade.

      I remember when I first saw THE EXORCIST and my stomach would get into a know every time anyone approached Regan’s bedroom door. I had the same experience with this film the first time I saw it. As THE TENANT progressed, I felt a kind of tension any time Trelkovsky was alone in his apartment. Within those four walls, the rules of logic didn’t apply, so I was wound tighter than a mainspring, unable to anticipate where things were headed.

      And hats off to you for that very clever Rufus joke! I didn't see that name repeat (let alone its comic potential) myself.
      As for the trilogy and "Cul-De-Sac" -- that film resists the pattern for any number number of reasons, but mainly for its lack of psychosis factoring in the narrative and for its lack of a consistent subjective perspective.
      I love that THE TENANT Is actually your favorite horror movie. Perhaps it appears on a lot more "favorite" lists than I'm aware. Good to hear from you, Allen. Thank you very much for commenting!

  5. Well, what a delicious recommendation! This was the last of Polanski's '70s works that I hadn't yet seen. We put it on a double bill with his 1972 What? [Che?] (a lulu that movie is!). Interesting to me is that The Tenant seems a return to form with nuanced navel-gazing and hijinx filmmaking that styled his Fearless Vampire Killers, albeit with a developed twist in the third act.

    I really enjoyed the droning of Chopin being practiced on the piano in the apartment building, and the uncanny resemblance of Polanski to Chopin, an emigrée from Poland to Paris.

    What a treat to see Jo Van Fleet, the best moment of Cool Hand Luke, and Claude Piéplu as one of the neighbors (the ridiculous colonel from Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie).

    After watching, I definitely felt like I woke up the morning after the night before in half makeup and missing a wig.

    1. Hello PR - You of the floor-to-ceiling photo of The Garden of Earthly Delights! Glad that THE TENANT proved an enjoyable capper your '70s Polanski completism. And what a double-bill!
      Incidentally, I don't know about you, but I barely made it through "What?" - Polanski is never more the tragedian than when he's trying to be intentionally funny.

      Next time I watch THE TENANT I'm going to keep an ear out for the piano playing Chopin in the building. He did something similar in ROSEMARY'S BABY (with Debussy's Clair de Lune). And you know as soon I finish this reply, it's off to Google Images to see what Chopin looks like!
      Thanks for mentioning the actor Claude Piéplu! I love "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" but I didn't place him in THE TENANT. Perhaps I distracted by that terrible dubbed American voice they gave him.
      Although I resist the notion that my movie ramblings are actually recommendations (my tastes are too off-the-wall for me to think many others share them) I'm pleased if this post at least inspired you to check out sooner a film you were likely to get to eventually. Thanks for reading the post and for contributing to the comments so engagingly and informatively.

    2. Ha, I didn't mean to brandish the word "recommendation" so casually. I'm the same way; I don't like to recommend movies to others knowing how bizarre my own taste is. There's only one extant photograph (Dageurreotype) of Chopin, when he was already quite tubercular and not looking nearly as romanticized as his painted portraits tended to be. That's an excellent point about Polanski doing comedy as a tragedian, and my partner avoided half of What? to hide in the kitchen and refill snacks and beverages.

      As to The Tenant, your essay was so adept at unpacking everything I was seeing in this movie. Very much appreciated!


    3. Thanks, Kyle - Your comments are very generous. I really don't have a problem with the word recommendation, short of its assumptive tone (like I'm someone to whom anyone should take movie tips from).
      I actually feel very flattered when an essay of mine makes a film sound intriguing enough to check out. When my partner reads my posts, the biggest compliment he can pay me is when he tells me reading my article made him want to see a film he otherwise wouldn't have had any interest in.
      That's what I heard in your comment, and I thank you.

      I did check out that Chopin photo and you're so right...Polanski shares an eerie sympathy to Chopin's somewhat haunted appearance.

      Ending on the topic of "What?" interesting (if masochistic) double bill would be to pair it with "Candy" (1969). That movie kept popping up in my mind while watching "What?" because I'd read somewhere that Sydne Rome was almost cast as Candy before the producers laid eyes on Ewa Aulin.

      Nice to know your name, Kyle!

  6. There's something about this film that taps into everyone's latent paranoia, at the right time in life. (God bless you if you don't have access to that - you're a saner person than me, whoever you are.) I remember seeing it around the time I moved out on my own, first to an attic apartment in a public housing development at one of my city's most insalubrious corners, then to a tiny studio apartment (kitchen in a former closet, enormous bathroom with clawfoot tub - it made no sense) just near the city's "gay village." That sense of isolation and distance from family and friends, being truly "on your own" for the first time, and the (let's be honest, mostly unwanted) presence of neighbours on every side of you just amplifies the uneasiness, especially if you're young and trying to figure out how to do this adult thing. The Tenant just provided me with the nightmare iteration of that hard-to-describe feeling. "So what's it like living on your own for the first time?" someone would ask. Saying "Kinda like that Polanski film, The Tenant - have you seen it?" was not an answer calculated to make anyone look on you without concern.

    1. Hi Rick - I agree with you wholeheartedly when you say that aspects of this film tap into everyone's latent paranoia to some degree. It's just a matter of degree and timing. And the circumstances you describe sound like a perfect storm of both.
      I like that you were in tune enough with your feelings about your early experience to connect with the genuine and relatable anxieties given such melodramatic vent in THE TENANT.
      Your description of your first two apartments has the colorful hue of hindsight (it sounds "fun" and adventurous in a "That Girl" kinda way). But I know from experience that it's fun, scary, lonely, and disorienting, and involves a lot of feeling around in the dark, too.

      I TOTALLY would have "got it" when you described living on your own for the first time being kinda like THE TENANT. Certainly less cause for alarm than had you answered with REPULSION or ROSEMARY'S BABY!
      Thanks for commenting, Rick, and I appreciate your reading this post.

    2. I suppose you could look at that period as a "That Girl" sort of situation - "That Dude", so to speak, but with a darkroom enlarger on my desk and nothing more than a stereo and a pile of records in the living room. Thank God my life wasn't like Rosemary's Baby at the time - though I remember the first (and only) time I was ever in the Dakota (to photograph Rudolph Nureyev, actually) my eyes kept darting around the halls, looking for some echo of that creepy place from the film.

    3. I visited New York for the first time in 1982. Forget about the Empire State Building and The Statue of Liberty...the first thing I wanted to see was The Dakota. I never made it inside, but even if I had, it couldn't ever match up to what it must have been like to photographing Nureyev inside that legendary building. I've seen those photographs and they are sumptuously beautiful. Not a shade of demonic eeriness to be seen.
      And I enjoyed reading about how sparse your early living quarters were. Youth is such a wonderfully resilient time (at least it seemed so). I think back on my tiny single (with its bizarre stove/refrigerator combo appliance serving as the entire kitchen) and I almost romanticize it. I'm sure it looked quite forlorn and destitute to my parents.

  7. Ken, I watched the recent film WATCHER yesterday, and, wow, this is very much in the Polanski "apartment trilogy" vein, especially THE TENANT and ROSEMARY'S BABY - come to think of it, a little REPULSION too. And Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW. The filmmakers were undoubtedly influenced by these films - there's even an obligatory Marlboro cigarettes reference! And the situation of an American woman's living in Bucharest and feeling uncertain about her unfamiliar surroundings mirrors Trelkovsky's unease in Paris. It's a fairly well-crafted movie, but let down by a "meh" ending after we've been suspecting a more conspiratorial resolution. But those who like Polanski's brand of suspense should give it a "watch."

    1. Hi Mark - I saw Chloe Okuno's WATCHER last year and felt the same as you. I was engrossed by every minute of it and was aware of many moments that had me thinking back to the film you cited.
      As with the advent of Afrocentric horror films, I have found the mergence of more women directors and screenwriters in the horror genre has considerably enlivened the genre. The paranoia thrills of WATCHER are very much from a woman's perspective, cleverly using the usually dismissive, prioritized male gaze to chilling effect. And indeed, the whole "stranger in a strange land" element was marvelously employed with the Bucharest setting.
      Just writing to you about it now makes me want to revisit it (I really liked the ending...YIKES!) and write more about it for a future post. It definitely fits well into everything that Polanski mines in THE TENANT.
      Thank you so much for reminding me of it and contributing to the comments here. I hope that it inspires readers check it out, as it is an ideal tie-in with the themes explored in Polanski's Paranoia Trilogy.
      Thanks, Mark!