Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Tenant

I didn't feel like doing much last night beyond curling up in bed with movies and a giant cup of tea. I was in the mood to watch my favourite film of all time Rosemary's Baby, which although I own on DVD I don't currently own a DVD player (woe!) which renders it pretty useless. Netflix didn't have Rosemary's Baby, but they suggested The Omen as an alternative which suited me fine. Then halfway through watching The Omen, I suddenly remembered the other film in Roman Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy" I hadn't seen yet: The Tenant.

I don't think the so called "Apartment Trilogy" is anything official, but rather groups together three of Polanski's films which share the similar theme of being set in a tenement block and deal with urban paranoia. The first in the series is Repulsion, an excellent film from 1965 starring Catherine Deneuve who, after her sister with whom she co-habits leaves town and she's left to her own devices, begins having hallucinations as her past comes back to haunt her and she spirals further and further into mental illness and despair. The aspect of these films I always enjoy is that although they deal with the theme of mental illness which is so appropriated within the horror genre, these films feel a lot more honest regarding the issue. They show how it affects the character of the film with realism and the horror is the fact that it's happening to these everyday people (so therefore can happen to anyone), rather than the people being feared and treated as other for being mentally ill. The second film of the trilogy is Rosemary's Baby, the most popular of them all and rightly so. I love how ambiguous it is right up until the end: are these elderly mild mannered neighbours and Rosemary's own husband really out to do her harm or is the poor woman terribly ill? And lastly there's The Tenant, which I watched for the first time last night. I don't know why it took me so long to get round to this one, but I'm actually glad it did as there's nothing better than having a really fantastic film to watch for the first time when you're really in the mood for such things. I really feel like a lot of it went over my head and I'm still processing it. It's such a layered film with so much up for interpretation, and there's so many bizarre scenes that it's hard to keep track of them all. It featured everything I loved about the previous two films: the sense of quiet unease and something just out of grasp being amiss, the slow build up of tension, and claustrophobic loneliness.

Polanski actually acts in this one, he plays the main character of Trelkovsky, a Polish man living in Paris for which he's treated with suspicion despite the fact he's not done anything wrong. He moves into an apartment after the previous tenant, Simone, has committed suicide after jumping from the window. He doesn't see eye to eye with his neighbours from day one, they accuse him of making too much noise just for walking around his apartment and he sees people going into the communal toilet just to stand and stare at the wall for hours on end. He's convinced his neighbours have formed a plot to drive him to suicide, which he believes is the same thing that happened to Simone and he becomes more and more obsessed with her.

"If you cut off my head, what would I say... Me and my head, or me and my body? What right has my head to call itself me?"
The film is largely told from Trelkovsky's point of view, so as the viewer you're never really sure what's real and what isn't. You learn as the film reaches it's end that Trelkovsky is prone to dissociating and paranoid hallucinations, so is that reason to dismiss everything that's happened to him or are his neighbours really responsible for driving him there? He seems stable enough at the beginning of the film, simply timid and apologetic. And what did happen to Simone, and who even is she?

I always love films from the late '60s and '70s for their decor and costumes too, such eye candy. Particularly Stella, Simone's and Trelkovsky's girlfriend who has impeccable taste (seriously, it's such a complicated film. There's theories that Trelkovsky and Simone are the same person, and the fact that Stella is romantically linked with them both certainly adds to that theory even though it's not one I personally agree with. But then again I'm not sure which theory I agree with at this point!)

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