The Tenant  

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"I am not Simone Choule!"--Trelkovsky in The Tenant (1976)

"I think I'm pregnant!"--Trelkovsky in The Tenant (1976)

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The Tenant (French: Le locataire) is a 1976 French psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanski, starring Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, and Shelley Winters. It is based upon the 1964 novel Le locataire chimérique by Roland Topor and is the last film in Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy", following Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. It was entered into the 1976 Cannes Film Festival.

It co-stars actress Isabelle Adjani and has a very small part for the still young Eva Ionesco as the disabled girl.


Plot summary

Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski), a quiet and unassuming man, rents an apartment in Paris whose previous tenant, Egyptologist Simone Choule, attempted to commit suicide by throwing herself out of the window and through a pane of glass below. He visits Simone in the hospital but finds her entirely in bandages and unable to talk. Whilst still at Simone’s bedside, Trelkovsky meets Simone's friend, Stella (Isabelle Adjani), who has also come to visit. Stella is overwhelmed with emotion and begins talking to Simone, who looks towards her visitors and lets out a disturbing cry. The matron insists they leave, having already informed Trelkovsky that he may not speak to Choule. Trelkovsky tries to comfort Stella but dares not say that he never knew Simone, instead pretending to be another friend. They leave together and go out for a drink and a movie (1973's Enter The Dragon), where they fondle each other. Outside the theatre they part ways. Later, Trelkovsky calls up the hospital to enquire about Simone, and is told she has died.

As Trelkovsky occupies the apartment he is chastised repeatedly by his neighbors and landlord, Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas), for hosting a party with his friends, apparently having a woman over, making too much noise in general, and not joining in on a petition against another neighbor. Trelkovsky attempts to adapt to his situation, but is increasingly disturbed by the apartment and the other tenants. He frequently sees his neighbors standing motionless in the toilet room (which he can see from his own window), and discovers a hole in the wall with a human tooth stashed inside. He discusses this with his friends, who do not find things strange and belittle him for not standing up to his neighbours. He visits the apartment of one of his work friends, who plays a marching band record at a spitefully loud volume. A neighbour politely asks him to turn down the music, as his wife is ill and trying to sleep. Trelkovsky turns the record down, but his friend tells the neighbour that he will play his music as he wants, and that he does not care about his sick wife.

He receives a visit from one Georges Badar (Rufus), who secretly loved Simone and has believed her to be alive and well. Trelkovsky updates and comforts the man and spends the night out with him. He receives a postcard that Badar had posted before realising Simone had died. Frequenting the nearby café which Simone also patronised, he is recognized as the new tenant of her apartment. The owner pressures him into having Simone's regular order, which is then always given to him without being ordered, against his preferences. They are always out of his preferred choice of cigarette, Gauloises, so he develops a habit of ordering Marlboros, which Simone used to order. Nobody has any idea why Simone was suicidal.

Trelkovsky becomes severely agitated and enraged when his apartment is robbed, while his neighbors and the concierge (Shelley Winters) continue to berate him for making too much noise, and his landlord warns him not to inform the police of the burglary. Suffering from fever and bad dreams, he wakes up one morning to find his face made up. He buys a wig and women's shoes and goes on to dress up (using Simone's dress which he had found in a cupboard) and sit still in his apartment in the dead of night. He suspects that Zy and neighbors are trying to subtly change him into the last tenant, Simone, so that he too will kill himself. He becomes hostile and paranoid in his day-to-day environment (snapping at his friends, slapping a child in a park) and his mental state progressively deteriorates. He has visions of his neighbors playing football with a human head, finds the toilet covered in hieroglyphs, and looking across the courtyard, sees himself standing at his apartment window, looking into the bathroom with binoculars. Trelkovsky runs off to Stella for comfort and sleeps over, but in the morning after she has left for work, he concludes that she too is in on his neighbors' plot, and proceeds to vandalise and burgle her apartment before departing.

At night he is hit by an elderly couple driving a car. He is not injured too seriously, but receives a sedative injection from the doctor due to his odd behavior — he perceives the elderly couple as his landlord Zy and wife, and accuses them of trying to murder him. The couple returns him to his apartment. A deranged Trelkovsky dresses up again as a woman and throws himself out of the apartment window in the manner of Simone Choule, before what he believes to be a clapping, cheering audience composed of his neighbors. The suicide attempt wakes up his neighbors, who call the police and attempt to restrain him. He crawls away from them back to his apartment, and jumps out the window a second time moments after the police arrive.

In the final scene, Trelkovsky is bandaged up in the same fashion as Simone Choule, in the same hospital bed. From his perspective, we see his and Stella's own visit to Simone. Trelkovsky then lets out the same disturbing cry as Simone did in the earlier scene.

Theories about the film

This film does not clearly say whether the main character is mad or not, contrary to the previous entries in Polanski's Apartment Trilogy. Therefore a lot of theories have been made about it.

  • From the presence of Egyptian symbols displayed in props in many scenes, a reincarnation theory could be derived : Trelkovsky and Simone are in reality the same person, which would explain the scene where Trelkovsky sees himself in his apartment. It follows, that that the scene where Trelkovsky stares at Simone is the very same scene, subject to a curious time warp. The bathroom represents a funeral chamber (as denoted by the hieroglyphs), which places Simone in this scene as a mummy, because of her appearance.
  • Trelkovsky is either a fictional character created by Simone, or a fantasy based upon the man visiting her at the hospital. Therefore most of the story line in the film is imaginary, except the first few scenes. Simone is schizophrenic and develops another personality in order to fulfill her homosexual desires upon her friend Stella.
  • Trelkovsky is merely hallucinating (this is suggested by the mise en scène).
  • Trelkovsky was driven insane by his neighbors (as he claims to Stella). He is schizophrenic and think he is Simone, which ultimately leads to his suicide.
  • The film is auto-biographical. Some potential proofs are : Polanski changing Trelkovsky's origins (in the book, he is of Russi extraction), the statements he made about how he used his experience to make the movie (the racist jokes, the cold neighbors).




In his review of the film for The Regrettable Moment of Sincerity, Adam Lippe writes: "Many would attest that The Pianist is Polanski's most personal work, given the obvious Holocaust subject matter, but look beneath the surface, and when the window curtains are drawn aside, Polanski's The Tenant shines brightest as the work closest to his being."

Other than to the works of Franz Kafka (see below), the film's even more mysterious, ambiguous mood and atmosphere as to whether it belongs to either the horror or the psychological thriller genre has garnered it critical comparisons to both its contemporaries Don't Look Now (1973) by Nicolas Roeg and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), even more so than the previous two entries to Polanski's Apartment Trilogy. Given its production design, photography, and in how The Tenant crafts a creepily bizarre scenario of a group of neighbors appearing to be preying on a new tenant's life and conspire against him for that purpose, it has also been compared to the black comedy film Delicatessen (1991) by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, which also stars the French actor Rufus in a supporting role, just like The Tenant and The Shining seems to suggest a house as the malevolent source to the sinister deeds of its inhabitants, and is set in a post-apocalyptic future where all animals have died and the people of a remote decaying house resort to eating each of the house's successive new janitors.

Kafka influence

Many critics have noted The Tenant 's strong Kafkaesque theme, typified by an atmosphere that is absurdly over-burdened with anxiety, confusion, guilt, bleak humour, alienation, sexual frustration and paranoia. However, the film cannot be viewed as purely driven by a Kafkaesque motif because of the numerous references to Trelkovsky's delirium and heavy drinking. This allows for more than one interpretation.

Most of the action occurs within a claustrophobic environment where dark, ominous things occur without reason or explanation to a seemingly shy protagonist, whose perceived failings as a tenant are ruthlessly pursued by what Trelkovsky himself views as an increasingly cabalistic conspiracy. Minor infringements are treated as serious breaches of his tenancy agreement, and this apparent persecution escalates after he refuses to join his neighbours in a prejudiced campaign to oust a mother with a disabled child.

"The scheming plots over matters of extraordinary pettiness and inexplicable conspiracies that go on among the neighbours to gang up on others make The Tenant probably the first Kafkaesque horror film."

"Much effect is derived from the absurdity of the scenario where all Trelkovsky wants to do is not bother anyone, yet everything Trelkovsky does is seen as an imposition."

Critics have speculated that the film's Kafkaesque atmosphere must be in part a reflection of Polanski's own Jewish experiences within a predominantly anti-Semitic environment. Trelkovsky is viewed with suspicion by almost every other character simply because he is a foreign national. For example, when he tries to report a robbery to the French police he is treated sceptically and told that as a foreigner he should not make trouble. Both the director and the protagonist are outsiders who strive ineffectually for acceptance in what they see as a corrupt and mysterious world.

Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times: "Trelkovsky exists. He inhabits his own body, but it's as if he had no lease on it, as if at any moment he could be dispossessed for having listened to the radio in his head after 10 P.M. People are always knocking on his walls."

According to Ulrich Behrens of Der Mieter (translated from the German):{{blockquote|"The film's title [of The Tenant] could be interpreted as follows: An alien is given the chance to rent an apartment for himself in a well-ordered world, however he may be evicted at any given time once the natives find him to be in violation of this world's well-ordered rules, or failing to properly internalize them. In the end, it is of little importance who is normal and who is insane. The individual's paranoia equals our well-ordered world's desire to persecute. Nobody can help Trelkovsky - he can't even help himself. In a disenchanted, jaded world with its fixed social order, the individual and one's autonomy have but one fate: Either submission and internalization of people's rules - or insanity. Which is no real choice. Here, the individual is always on the brink of annihilation, about to lose itself."

Doomed cycle, loss of self, and social assimilation

The Tenant has been referred to as a precursor to Kubrick's The Shining (1980), as another film where the lines between reality, madness, and the supernatural become increasingly blurry (the question usually asked with The Shining is "Ghosts or cabin fever?") as the protagonist finds himself doomed to cyclically repeat another person's nightmarish fall. Just like in The Shining, the audience is slowly brought to accept the supernatural by what at first seems a slow descent into madness, or vice versa: "The audience's predilection to accept a proto-supernatural explanation [...] becomes so pronounced that at Trelkovsky's break with sanity the viewer is encouraged to take a straightforward hallucination for a supernatural act."

In his book Polanski and Perception, Davide Caputo has called the fact that in the end, Trelkovsky defenestrates himself not once, but twice "a cruel reminder of the film's 'infinite loop'" of Trelkovsky becoming Mme. Choule meeting Trelkovsky shortly before dying in the hospital, a loop not unlike The Shining's explanation that Jack Torrance "has always been the Overlook's caretaker". Timothy Brayton of Antagony & Ecstasy likens this eternally looping cycle of The Tenant to the film's recurring Egyptian motifs:

"There is a recurrent motif of Egyptian hieroglyphics that remains unexplained in the film. Ancient Egyptian religious belief, it is important to note, was based on the notion that all things are the same all throughout history: not the same as Hinduism's conception that everything has happened before and will happen again, but more the belief that everything is always happening. The best I can come up with is to suppose that Trelkovsky, whether in his mind or in reality, is always the same as Simone. He does not become her, so much as we finally reach a point where the distinction between the two of them is no longer important. Either way, the result is the same: there is no Trelkovsky. To someone whose life had been as traumatic as Polanski's, that idea might well have been an attractive one." |Timothy Brayton (Antagony & Ecstasy)|Apartment house fools

Steve Biodrowski of Cinefantastique writes: "THE TENANT is short on typical horror movie action: there are no monsters, and there is little in the way of traditional suspense. That's because the film is not operating on the kind of fear that most horror films exploit: fear of death. Instead, THE TENANT's focus is on an equally disturbing fear: loss of identity." In his review of the film for The Regrettable Moment of Sincerity, Adam Lippe writes of Trelkovsky's surroundings sinisterly shaping him into an echo of the past: "Coming from a Nazi-occupied childhood, Polanski no doubt uses his character's identity crisis to illustrate society's ability to shape and mold the uniqueness of its members, whether they like it or not." Similarly, Dan Jardine of Apollo Guide writes: "Polanski seems to be studying how people, in our isolating world, increasingly mould themselves to their environment, sometimes to the point where their individual identity is absorbed into the world around them. The longer he is in the building, the more Trelkovsky begins to lose sight of where his internal sense of his 'self' ends, and his social identity begins."

"What happens to The Tenant? Is poor Trelkovsky haunted by ghosts or does he turn insane? Does a (mysteriously) hostile environment drive him to commit suicide, or do the necessities of a cold reality break a tender soul? Could Trelkovsky be identical to Simone Choul from the beginning? Are we even witnessing Simone Choul's very own death hallucination, with Trelkovsky as nothing but a figment of her dying mind?"

Because of how little we get to know of Trelkovsky's life prior to his applying for the apartment and moving in, only to become an echo of former tenant Mme. Choule because of his frail, almost inexistent personality's weak resistance to either her ghost or his bullying neighbors as if he has always been Mme. Choule and always will be, the film has also been referred to as an early precursor to Fight Club (1999), a film where the final twist reveals it to be about a case of split personality.

Isolation and claustrophobia

A recurring theme with Polanski's films, but especially pronounced in The Tenant, is that of the protagonist as a silent, isolated observer in hiding. As Brogan Morris writes in Flickering Myth: "One of Roman Polanski's recurring motifs has always been the horror of the apartment space. It was as recently as his last film, Carnage, and in a crucial sequence of his masterful The Pianist: it's from an apartment window which Szpilman can do nothing but watch atrocities unfold outside. The fascination is there most obviously, though, in Polanski's 'Apartment Trilogy' [...]. And The Tenant, a blackly comedic meta-horror, is perhaps Polanski's ultimate use of the apartment as a claustrophobic, paranoid zone of terror."

"The Tenant also makes an interesting film to read in term of Roman Polanski's own life – he, like the character he plays, is a Pole who went to live in Paris very shortly after the film was made. His other horror films – Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby – like The Tenant, see the apartment as a home of paranoia and madness. You could extend the analogy further and compare Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant to Polanski's The Pianist, where Adrien Brody's protagonist, a Jew living in Poland under Nazi occupation, is reduced to hiding a pitiful, starving existence hiding in cubbyholes and the bombed-out ruins of buildings where he cannot be sure whether the people he encounters are friend or foe or will betray him. Polanski himself grew up in the Krakow ghettos as a Jewish child under the Nazi occupation and survived by hiding in the countryside and with other families after his parents were taken to the concentration camps, so perhaps one can see the very personal nature of the recurrent themes of isolation, paranoia and the feeling that the apartment is an alien world in his work." |Richard Scheib (Moira: Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review)| THE TENANT (Le Locataire)

Sexual deviance and repression

Related to the aforementioned kafkaesque guilt and the theme of identity loss, another theme that appears throughout the film is that of sexual deviance and Trelkovsky's increasing trespassing of traditional gender roles, as he more and more turns into an echo of former tenant Mme. Choule. German reviewer Andreas Staben writes: "And again, [Polanski] tells of sexual repression, and in Polanski's astounding, unpretentious performance, Trelkovsky's escape into the identity of Simone Choule appears as a consequential closure of all three films [of the Apartment Trilogy]. Other than was maybe the case still with Repulsion, there can be no talk whatsoever of a psycho-pathological case study anymore: Here, the individual is entirely wiped out and all that remains is the horror of facing a pure void."

"In The Tenant, Roman Polanski explores again the psychic terrain of guilt, dread, paranoia, fears of sexual inadequacy and hysteria he made so familiar in Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Macbeth, and Chinatown. [...] [T]he confusion of sexual roles is more pronounced here than anywhere else in [Polanski's] work. The slightly decadent and fetishistic, but innocent, bedtime games of Cul-de-sac have developed into the signs of a basic confusion concerning sexual identity. T.'s acquisition of feminine costume and habits speaks to a repressed and disturbing need. He is not attracted to women, in fact cannot perform sexually when Stella (Isabelle Adjani) takes him home. In this respect he is again the counterpart of Simone Schoul who, he is told, was never interested at all in men. As he is drawn more completely into the idea of becoming this woman, T. pauses to speculate about what defines him. If a man loses an arm, he wonders, does the arm or the remaining body define his selfhood? How much can a man lose, change, or give away and still remain 'himself'? Or, to paraphrase the advertisers, does the cigarette make the man?"|Norman Hale (Movietone News, no. 52, October 1976, p. 38-39)|Review: Tenant


  • The film shown in the theatre is Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.
  • It is the last film in Polanski's Apartment Trilogy, following Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby.
  • The film has no end credits; only the Paramount logo.
  • In competition in Cannes film festival, 1976.
  • The album Bites by Skinny Puppy uses many samples from this film.
  • The song "Fritter (Stella's Home)" from Skinny Puppy's VIVIsectVI album also uses clips from this film.
  • The coffee shop scene in the beginning of the film is one of the only ones in movie history in which a couple is being shown sitting in a coffee shop while on the table lies used coffee cups from a prior time. Waiter is taking the dishes away as soon as the two sit down.
  • This film was #65 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
  • Philippe Sarde (the composer) chose the glass harmonica after having seen Polanski, at the restaurant, mimicking with his finger the action making the glass sing. There were only one person left in the world that could play this instrument, for which Mozart wrote a few pieces.
  • Philippe Sarde made an appearance in the film, he plays the man disturbed by Trelkovsky and Stella at the theatre.
  • One of the ten most terrifying moments in history of cinema in the opinion of the French horror movie magazine Mad Movies.
  • This film is amongst the first ones to use the Louma, along with Spielberg's 1941, and Superman.
  • During an appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, cult horror actor Bruce Campbell said this is his favorite horror film.

Memorable Quotes

Trelkovsky: These days, relationships with neighbors can be... quite complicated. You know, little things that get blown up out of all proportion? You know what I mean?

Stella's Friend: No, no I don't. I mind my own business.

Trelkovsky: I am not Simone Choule!

Trelkovsky: [talking to himself] [he opens a box and takes out a pair of shoes] Oh! My! Where did you find these? They are beautiful! A size 68? I had *no* idea!

Trelkovsky: You want me to do it again? I shall do it again! You did not like it the first time.

[shouts] Simone Choule does not disappoint!

Stella: Why don't you take your tie off? You look like you're choking to death.

Trelkovsky: I found a tooth in my apartment. It was in a hole.

Trelkovsky: 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?

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Tenant" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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