‘The Tenant’: Roman Polanski’s deliciously spooky psychological thriller

The Tenant (1976)

The Tenant, the enigmatic third film in Roman Polanski’s “Apartment” trilogy, shares some of the same themes with its predecessors – paranoia and isolation. Both Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby were about two loners with deep-seated psychological issues driven to insanity by their surroundings and the people inhabiting them. Based on a novel called Le Locataire Chimerique by Roland Topor, the story concerns a young man named Trelkovsky (played by Polanski himself) who becomes the new tenant of a grim apartment block somewhere in Paris. He soon learns that the young woman who previously occupied his apartment tried to kill herself by jumping from a top floor window.

When he visits her in the hospital, he comes across a beautiful woman named Stella (played by Isabelle Adjani) who tells him that she is her friend. After he returns to his apartment, he starts to notice not only strange behavior from the other tenants but also some eerily bizarre occurrences. He is treated with contempt and hostility by his neighbours. He slowly begins to get obsessed about this young woman’s life and starts digging around in her apartment. Very soon, he becomes convinced that his neighbours want him to end up in the same fate as the woman by driving him completely insane. The Tenant, in my opinion, is one of Polanski’s most underappreciated films. I think I’m in the minority that calls their most favorite in the trilogy. Not only did I find it more chilling and more absorbing than the other two films, I also find something new every time I see it. There are obviously some parallels here with Polanski’s own life and maybe this was what compelled him to play the role of the protagonist himself.

The whole film has a Kafka-esque quality to it and is the cinematic equivalent of a dark and deeply unsettling nightmare. Trelkovsky has a lot in common with the protagonists in Kafka’s stories: The inability to communicate with those around him and the constant suspicion that people around him are trying to destroy him. There are few sequences that really creeped me out, especially the one where he tries out the young woman’s clothes. The ending is ambiguous and creepy and you’ll scratch your head trying to figure out what exactly happened. And I didn’t mean that in a bad way. The Tenant has found a place in my list of favorite psychological thrillers. This is the kind of film that will keep you from renting a place alone.

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