Ahhhh, that refreshing feeling you have as you unload the last box filled with all of your precious things into your newly called home. Yes, that empty “box” that took days, weeks, months, or even years to find… is finally a dream come true. You’re delighted to take that leap onto the couch, smell the fresh paint and let out a proud sigh. You try to unpack as soon as possible.
As you rearrange the furniture, you start to daydream of Thanksgivings, dinner parties, and many more memories filled with love and laughter. Now, once the dreamlike europhoria soon dissipates, what happens when you find out that your sanctuary is soon haunted by the old tenants? Nosey neighbors, ruthless rules, and even a plot to kill you?
The Tenant, Roman Polanski’s 1976 unnerving psychological thriller, mines this seemingly extreme universe. Bureaucrat Trelkovsky’s (Polanski) dream of fulfilling a quiet life in the heart of Paris is disrupted by a series of unfortunate events. A dark fantasy where the four walls of his flat soon envelop him into a world where he can’t tell what is real and what is not.
We hang on to witness a wild ride wherein Trelkovsky’s apartment is either killing him or helping him uncover the truth behind a murder that was spun to look like a suicide of the previous tenant. We go deep into the psyche of a man struggling with morality while grappling with a mystery he can’t unsee or be a part of.
The opening scene is a beautiful wide shot of a window that pans down, giving the audience a gauge of how far the distance is to the pavement. As, the camera holds still you notice a broken glass panel, with no plans to fix it anytime soon. The opening score flows so whimsically as it passes each window of the dilapidated pre-war Parisian building. It glides through as if the music notes were silky fine hair as they brush your face on a breezy day.
It is very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but with a more pronounced and suffocating ambiance, as you feel that this gorgeous building will house more pain then romance. Gripping and thrilling beyond belief, it went to a place where even this movie buff was not expecting. It was dangerous, engaging, and well executed.
The Tenant also provoked its share of personal memories. I walked the gay old streets of Paris as a model in my youth. Grinning from ear to ear in love, exploring what most fellow tourists have witnessed before me. Taking in all its romance and charm, I reflected on all the great writers, poets, and films that added to the City of Light’s undeniable “chicness.”
The dimly lit freshly wet streets that glistened with fantasies and dreams of that one true Parisian kiss was briefly trampled on after watching The Tenant. Polanski paints a grittier, less desirable side of the destination I had come to know and love; a roughly honest side where crime is sometimes lurking where you least expect it.
Who would have imagined a home where you go to rest your head and recharge, would be a place you feel the least comfortable and safe at? Waking up in a cold sweat, hearing people pounding at your door and staring into your bedroom all hours of the night? Driving you so mad, you don’t know if “offing” yourself is the only way to relieve yourself from this cycle of misery.
There is darkness behind this fever dream of Paris. Or maybe the City of Light wasn’t bright enough to save us from ourselves? The conclusion should have varied reactions, but the strength of this film is that it makes you watch, think, reflect, and discuss. To me… It’s been a while since a film has left me thinking – a-ha!!!