The Tenant (1976) Movie Review

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Aww boy, this is a real patch of thin ice.  Especially when you consider the times in which it happened and the slightly more recent events.  About 8 weeks from the time I write this review, Charles Manson, the cult leader and mastermind of the Manson Family murders (which led to the murder of director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, and their unborn child) had died from cancer.  Fly backwards to 1976, the year this movie was made.  This was the last film by Roman Polanski before his reputation was tainted by the underage sex scandal that has kept him from going to the USA since 1978.  Tweets about Charles Manson did include Roman Polanski, but with Polanski’s name, came the accusations.  So in this process, I will be discussing this film within the context of Roman Polanski as an artist, director and actor who survived the holocaust and lost his family, rather than the man that a number of people want to see brought to justice.  Anyway, this is the Tenant.

The movie is set in the modern day (1976) and is about a Polish Immigrant named Treikovsky (played by Roman Polanski) who is renting an apartment in Paris during a time when there were more people than places to stay in the city.  Treikovsky receives 2 rooms; a kitchen in 1, and a bedroom/living room hybrid in the other, with the building’s main toilet (which has a big window beside it) in full view of the apartment.  He is also shown where the previous tenant tried to commit suicide, by jumping out the window of said bedroom and going through the glass ceiling below.  But there’s a catch – the young woman, an egyptologist named Simone Choule, wasn’t dead.  Dreikovsky pays Choule a visit in Hospital, where he meets Choule’s friend Stella (played by Isabelle Adjani), who he becomes friends with, out of comforting each other.  But life starts to get weird for Dreikovsky when his choices seem to start resembling the previous tenant, or more specifically, everybody is trying to fit him into her role in their lives, and everybody in his building seem to start blaming him for noise and mess, with the threat of eviction.  As paranoia builds, the film descends into…madness.

Now to go into more details

The Acting for the most part was consistent.  There were no show stealers, but everybody was either a 7 or 8 out of 10.  Even Polanski himself is a pretty good lead actor (within the personality of his on-screen character).  One thing that does intrigue me though, is the one thing that put me off the film Memoirs Of A Geisha, but I’m surprisingly okay with in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy: English dubbing.  Though Polanski is french, and his cast is either French or American (including screen legend Shelley Winters), and the film was shot in Paris – Polanski chose to make the film more international friendly by dubbing over the french actors who weren’t comfortable acting in english (and it can be quite clear which 1s were which).  I would see it as a difficult situation, as I would have preferred to have watched the film in french.  But it was solid with its english voiceovers.  Roughly on par with a good anime dubbing.

The Characters were pretty quirky and at times amusing (It’s basically a french movie, after all), with many of them ether reflecting Treikovsky or amplifying his fears.   The character of Treikovsky is that of a man who is quiet, unassuming and desires a comfortable and peaceful life – where he can work in peace, enjoy friends, and have a nice girl in his life.  On the surface, he appears to have all of these things – but what the film shows us is how he sees the world around him.  That despite his efforts to give everyone what they want, it’s not enough.  Paranoia kicks in as demands and threats pile down, with a feeling of being watched creeping in, and a seeming desire from everybody to see Dreikovsky fall or leave.  Which in time makes him angry, and even bitter.  In reality, many of the characters want what he wants, including peace and quiet.  And everything wrong with them, or seem to have against Dreikovsky, has all been blown out of proportion by Dreikovsky himself.  It is an example of how the scariest things in our lives fit into the fear of the unknown.  The unknown intentions.  The unknown standings.  The unknown opinions.  This is what drives everything in the narrative.

Speaking of the narrative: The Story was originally a novel by Roland Topor, an artistic renaissance man of Polish-Jewish descent who survived World War 2 when he hid in the region of Savoy with his family.  He wrote the book with themes on Alienation and Identity-crisis, which Polanski does explore throughout the film with a certain understanding, as Polanski himself came from a Polish Jewish family, as does his character Dreikovsky, and they all grew up and lived in France.  Today, the novel has become quite hard to find at a good price.  But the movie could be seen as here to remind us that it’s out there.  The story itself is very good, but in the film’s execution it can be compared to a lot of other things.  It has all of the qualities of an episode of the Twilight Zone or the Night Gallery, but instead of lasting 20-40 minutes it lasts 2 hours.  When the film is suspenseful, it’s very good.  But much of the film is slow, at times even boring.  Much of it is necessary.  But there’s a lot to sit through until it becomes really interesting.  The funeral scene would have sent a lot of chills upon release, and it was pretty intimidating when I saw it first time.

The Music is by Philippe Sarde, who developed a unique score that’s incredibly beautiful, continental-sounding, and absolutely unnerving for the most part.  To the point that hearing it makes up a better half of the horror.  There is a foreboding doom to it.  A sinister eye.  A fearful chill.  Then at times it will lighten up with some yiddish style wood harmony that humanises the monster.  Much like how Dreikovsky creates monsters out of human beings.  It’s most impressive, and 1 of the highlights of the film.

The Cinematography is excellent in general.  Most of the time, it’s simple – but then you get the stranger moments that really stand out.  It is also an opportunity to see a version of Paris that still gets talked about and doesn’t really exist anymore.  Perhaps it was dirty and cracked here and there, and now it’s clean.  Perhaps this was a neighbourhood or a field and now it’s a field or a neighbourhood.  Perhaps it was this shop then, but this shop now.  It has a time-capsule quality to it.  A vision of what once was.  A beautiful city full of human beings with a lot of similar desires.

Would I recommend The Tenant?  Yes, but maybe not to the same extent as Chinatown or The Pianist.  Within context, the second view could be a little game of pointing out what was real and what was fantasy beyond the most obvious fantastical scenes.  Compared to other films by Polanski that I’ve seen, this was a little disappointing.  Like I said, it has a lot of good qualities, but much of the film is slow and a bit boring, and the english dubbing doesn’t always walk, even if the acting’s pretty good.  Still worth a watch, but it is flawed in its attempts to stay interesting during quieter moments.

Acting: ****

Characters: ***3/4

Story: ****

Music: ****3/4

Cinematography: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/4

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