Tenant, The

Director: Roman Polanski

France-U.S.A.| 1976. Colour. 125 mins.

Polanski himself plays the eponymous hero, a young Pole (though he keeps insisting he is a French citizen) who takes over the flat of a young woman who attempted suicide. Tormented by querulous neighbours, visits from the previous tenant’s friends and mysterious happenings in the toilet outside his window, he begins to take on the paranoid personality of the previous occupant.
It is a piquant sight to see Polanski subjecting himself to the kind of experiences his previous heroines have endured. The disintegration of personality seems equally the product of a perceptibly disturbing environment and the hero’s masochism. A superb scene in a church where his attraction for his companion (Isabelle Adjani) is overwhelmed by his queasiness at the sermon on putrefying flesh nicely catches the ambiguity: is he being engulfed by surrounding corruption or is this hypersensitive morbidity taking place inside his own head? Explaining the film’s critical and commercial failure, Polanski felt he mismanaged the shifts of tone and the development of the hero’s gradual insanity, but this seems harsh: it is a bizarre yet sometimes funny and always compelling portrait of an outsider clinging to a fragile sense of self.

Book Tickets