(director/writer: Roman Polanski; screenwriters: Gerard Brach/based on the novel La Locataire Chimerique by Roland Torpor; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Franccise Bannot; music: Phillppe Sarce; cast: Roman Polanski (Trelkovsky), Isabelle Adjani (Stella), Melvyn Douglas (Mr. Zy), Shelley Winters (Concierge), Jo Van Fleet (Madame Dioz), Romain Bouteille (Simon), Lila Kedrova (Madame Guderian), Dominique Poulange (Simone Schule), Michel Blanc (Scope’s Neighbor), Jacques Monod (cafe owner); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andrew Braunsoerg; Paramount Pictures; 1976-France/USA-in English, with the French cast dubbed in English)
Poorly received on its release, it has since become a cult fave.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A psychological thriller, perhaps wanting to be a horror pic like Rosemary’s Baby but settling instead to be an oddball film known for its creepy look, its haunting oppressive atmosphere and its notorious director dressing as a woman. It’s directed with nervous energy by Roman Polanski (“Repulsion”/”Knife in the Water”/”Chinatown”), who also stars in it. It’sbased on the 1964 novel La Locataire Chimerique by Polish émigrésatirist Roland Torpor and is cowritten by Gerard Brach and Polanski.

Poorly received on its release, it has since become a cult fave. The unsettling film plays into the newly naturalized French citizen director’s hands, as a gloomy tale of urban paranoia carried to extremes (something the director knows so well from real-life, as he still has not recovered from his wife Sharon Tate being murdered by the Manson Family in 1969). At times it seems to be suffocating under its own misery. But Polanski’s deadpan dour performance is so serious and offbeat, that the pic starts getting interesting the more unpleasant he becomes reacting to a hostile world that preys on the weak and crippled. It’s a strange mixture of Kafka literary tidbits and a sick joke worthy of a William Castle camp film starring Vincent Price, which makes it somewhat appealing because it makes no attempt to be appealing or conventional. Even for this outrageous director, this pic is weird.

Polish émigréTrelkovsky (Roman Polanski), a timid clerk in Paris, learns of an apartment vacancy through a workplace friend. In a visit to the gloomy respectable building, he’s told by the chortling offensive concierge (Shelley Winters) that the last tenant, a young single lady named Simone Schule, jumped out the window and is hospitalized. Told he can’t rent the apartment until the current tenant dies, the determined apartment hunter nevertheless works out a deal with the fusspot elderly landlord (Melvyn Douglas). Then Trelkovsky visits the hospital in a ghoulish deathwatch. There he meets Simone’s friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani), who is not recognized by the vic and the room of visitors is cleared by the patient’s blood-curdling scream of fright. Afterwards the socially-awkward virgin Trelkovsky takes Stella to a Bruce Lee kung fu flick, which has her groping him. But Trelkovsky can’t close the deal, and the two part amiably and form a tenuous romantic relationship.

The suicide dies and the feeling lucky Trelkovsky moves in. But the building becomes a nightmare for the mousy clerk. Neighbors complain about the noise when his obnoxious workplace friends come over for a housewarming; tenants for no reason stand for hours staring out the window of the communal toilet across the courtyard from his apartment; unnamed neighbors complain about noise from his apartment during hours when Trelkovsy isn’t even home; the overbearing landlord keeps warning him to be quiet or face eviction; the tenant refuses to sign a petition to evict another tenant, one with a crippled daughter, he doesn’t even know, which makes him unpopular in the building; and in a hole behind his cupboard he discovers a human tooth. If that weren’t enough reasons to find another apartment, the apartment gets burglarized, he starts hallucinating that the other tenants are conspiring to make him commit suicide, he receives strange occult books on ancient Egypt (which was the former tenant’s interest), and clothing of the dead woman. The tenant finally cracks and starts dressing up as a woman, and becomes increasingly paranoid and suicidal.

If its aim was to creep the viewer out and throw bricks at a mean-spirited gossipy public (something the director has experienced for his entire life), it succeeded.

REVIEWED ON 6/7/2010 GRADE: B   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/