…and the quest to see everything

Hysteria: Roman Polanski’s The Tenant

Simple misunderstandings can ruin already precarious relationships between coworkers or neighbours. Roman Polanski has made a movie about that called The Tenant. He plays the titular tenant, a Polish immigrant named Trelkolvsky who lives in the same building as Shelley Winters‘ concierge character and some senior citizens. They, by the way, want to uphold the quietness of their building by keeping families out and not reporting to the police during robberies. It’s also the kind of building that has old plumbing but the landlord Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas) audaciously asks for 5000 francs a month. And they think that he’s a playboy because he had one party in his apartment with his very coarse coworkers.

The apartment’s original tenant is Simone Schoul, who has left the apartment furnished. Even the walls have their own identity as she has apparently left some of her teeth behind a wooden wardrobe. The movie shows this urban condition when people live, sit and meet the same people others have. We inhabit spaces with histories like hearsay but that littleness doesn’t make it insignificant. We think of ourselves as ‘individual’ but individuality, after all is only marked by how we differ from the other and it is more difficult to assert our identities when the other multiply around us, surrounds us and makes us claustrophobic.

At the same time Polanski is weary of asserting individualism as he presents a coworker/best friend character as the Trelkovsky’s foil. The latter is a man who would be rude when his neighbours complain about him. Trelkovsky doesn’t want to become that person but he gets lumped with his best friend because of ageist prejudices and other reasons. But that’s the same way that first or bad impressions last in others’ and in our own eyes.

I wasn’t sure about Polanski’s performance while watching the movie but I’m starting to like it more and more. He hugs and almost juggles the trash he has produced with his first and only party, taking it down the stairs. He becomes the frazzled man with his screech-y voice eventually snapping at people equally for the smallest reasons and it’s funnier watching that anger coming out from a man with a childlike face. The movie feels sleepy after the forty-five minute mark, going into a cycle of Trelkovsky meeting his girlfriend Stella (Isabelle Adjani), the neighbours complaining and him moping. All of that while waiting for him to come out in drag which…

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