Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Tenant (1976)

Fig. 1

This film starts out as a study of alienation, as felt by a foreigner in overcrowded 1970s paris.  Trelkovsky (Polanski) is so desperate to find an apartment that he finds himself trying to secure the flat of a woman who recently attempted suicide by leaping from the window.  Having succeded, he moves in only to discover that the apartment block is far from an ideal place to live.  Every movement of a chair or dropping of a saucepan leads to furious knocking on the walls, floor and ceiling from neighbours incensed at the noise; and he is forced to use a communal bathroom which also happens to overlook his windows.  Part of the problem is the extreme passivity of Trelkovsky, who goes out of his way not to offend anyone; when the owner of the cafe across the street from his apartment ignores his order and serves him the breakfast that the deceased former tenant always ate, he acquiesces without a word.
However, while the first half of the film seems like a well observed documentary of isolation, the second half (ostensibly a depiction of Trelkovsky's descent into paranoid madness) destroyed my suspension of disbelief; as Vincent Canby said "The tension vanishes when one realizes that any absurdity, any trick, is available to the film maker. The director and his audience must share a set of rules for what passes for ordinary behavior if suspense is to be maintained. These rules do not exist in "The Tenant." (Canby, 1976).  That's not to say that the film is without merit past this point; there are several set pieces that are extremely interesting from a technical point of view.  A scene where Trelkovsky sees the bandaged form of the former tenant staring at him from the communal bathroom before slowly unwinding the bandage is interesting, and a dream sequence in which forced perspective is used to make it appear that Trelkovsky is shrinking before the audiences eyes.
Fig. 2
The film also manages to convey the feeling of exclusion felt by someone who has recently moved into a community from outside; Trelkovsky finds that despite his best effort to keep himself to himself and not upset anyone, he is labeled "un-social" when he refuses to sign a petition to get another tenant evicted (even though his refusal is due to not having experienced any of the "offences" that the other tenant is charged with) and when his flat is burgled, the landlord initially threatens to have him evicted for making too much noise before persuading him not to report the matter to police, saying he will take care of it.  When Trelkovsky does see a police inspector, he is treated like a criminal himself (on noting his accent, the policeman demands to see his identity papers before he will even consider investigating the matter).
 Although Trelkovsky is not without friends, he finds himself not fitting in with their extrovert nature, and when he holds a "quiet party" at his flat he is forced to turn them out at 10 O'Clock for fear of getting into trouble with the landlord and still recieves a stern complaint about the noise.
Although I found the second half of the film confusing, the Time Out film critic interprets Trelkovsky's belief that the other occupants of the appartment block are trying to turn him into his deceased predecesor and subsequent transvesticism as a depiction of his exploration of his own latent bisexualism (Time Out, 1976), however I am not convinced by this explanation.  Instead, I concur with Roger Ebert who wrote "In an ending that must rank among the most ridiculous ever fashioned for an allegedly reputable movie, he dresses in drag, hurls himself from the same window the former tenant used, fails to kill himself, climbs back upstairs and throws himself out again.  There is then an ironic ending that will come as a complete surprise to anyone who has missed every episode of "Night Gallery" or the CBS Mystery Theater." (Ebert, 1976).

List of Illustrations
Figure 1.   Marianne Productions (Org) (1976) The Tenant Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 20/01/2011)

Figure 2.  Marianne Productions (Org) (1976) The Tenant [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 20/01/2011)

Canby, Vincent (1976) Movie Review: The Tenant In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 20/01/2011)

Ebert, Roger (1976) The Tenant In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 20/01/2011)

Time Out Staff (1976) The Tenant In: TimeOutLondon [Online] At: (Accessed on 20/01/2011)

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