The Tenant is a 1976 psychological thriller 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. The film also known under the French title Le Locataire. It is the last film in Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy", following Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. It was entered into the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. The film had a total of 534,637 admissions in France.
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 the window and through a pane of glass below. He visits Choule in the hospital but finds her entirely in bandages and unable to talk. Whilst still at Choule's bedside, Trelkovsky meets Simone's friend, Stella (Isabelle Adjani), who has also come to visit. Stella begins talking to Simone, who becomes aware of her visitors. Initially showing some signs of agitation upon seeing them, Choule soon lets out a disturbing cry, then dies. It isn't clear which of the two has caused this reaction. Apparently unaware that Choule is now dead, 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.
As Trelkovsky occupies the apartment he is chastised unreasonably 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 receives a visit and a letter from one Georges Badar (Rufus), who secretly loves Simone and has believed her to be alive and well. Trelkovsky updates and comforts the man and spends the night out with him. Gradually he changes his breakfast habits to those of Simone, and shifts from Gauloises to Marlboro cigarettes.
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. He buys a wig and woman'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, sees himself staring out of his own window and finds the toilet covered in hieroglyphs. 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 wreak havoc in her apartment before departing.
At night he is hit by an elderly couple driving a car. He is not wounded 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—after which the couple returns him to his apartment. A deranged Trelkovsky dresses up again as a woman and throws himself out 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, in fact, wakes up his neighbors, who arrive at the scene together with the police just in time for Trelkovsky to crawl up to his apartment and jump one more time.
The end of the movie is enigmatic. Trelkovsky is bandaged up in the same fashion as Simone Choule in the same hospital bed, but we see his and Stella's own visit to Simone. Trelkovsky then lets out the same disturbing cry that Simone had screamed.
- Roman Polanski – Trelkovsky
- Isabelle Adjani – Stella
- Melvyn Douglas – Monsieur Zy
- Jo Van Fleet – Madame Dioz
- Bernard Fresson – Scope
- Shelley Winters – The Concierge
- Lila Kedrova – Madame Gaderian
- Claude Dauphin – Husband at the accident
- Claude Piéplu – Neighbor (as Claude Pieplu)
- Rufus – Georges Badar
- Romain Bouteille – Simon
- Jacques Monod – Cafe Owner
- Patrice Alexsandre – Robert
- Jean-Pierre Bagot – Policeman
- Josiane Balasko – Office Worker
- Michel Blanc – Scope's Neighbor
- Polanski receives no acting credit, despite the fact he plays the lead character.
- While the main character is clearly paranoid to some extent (as exemplified in the scene when he believes a neighbour is strangling him, when he is in fact shown strangling himself), this film does not entirely reveal whether everything takes place in his head or if the strange events happening around him exist at least partially, contrary to the previous entries in Polanski's "apartment trilogy."
Although The Tenant was poorly received on its release, it has since become a cult favourite. The film holds a 90% Certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 29 reviews.