Apartment Zero

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Apartment Zero
Apartment Zero.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Donovan
Produced byMartin Donovan
David Koepp
Screenplay byMartin Donovan
David Koepp
Story byMartin Donovan
Music byElia Cmíral
CinematographyMiguel Rodríguez
Edited byConrad M. Gonzalez
Producers Representative Organization
The Summit Company
Distributed byUnion Station Media (USA)
Release date
  • 15 September 1989 (1989-09-15) (UK)
Running time
124 minutes (theatrical release & 2007 DVD release)
116 minutes (TV Version)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1,267,578

Apartment Zero, also known as Conviviendo con la muerte (Spanish: Living with Death),[1] is a 1989 British-Argentine[1] political thriller film co-written and directed by Argentine-born screenwriter Martin Donovan and starring Hart Bochner and Colin Firth. It was produced in 1988 and premiered at film festivals throughout the next year. The story centers in a rundown area of Buenos Aires at the dawn of the 1980s, where Adrian LeDuc becomes friends with Jack Carney, an American tourist. Gradually Adrian begins to suspect that the outwardly likeable Jack is responsible for a series of political assassinations that are rocking the city.

On Rotten Tomatoes Apartment Zero scored a positive reaction from 74% of its viewers.[2] Famously suffused with homoerotic overtones and moments of black comedy,[3] the film has been described as "A brilliantly crafted psychological drama".[2]


Adrian LeDuc (Firth) is the British owner of a revival house in Buenos Aires. Apart from his mother, the core of his emotional life is movies, specifically classic American movies and stars. The story begins with Adrian in his theater, watching the final scene of Touch of Evil.

As his theater loses more and more money, Adrian advertises for a roommate to share his apartment rent. After several unsatisfactory applicants, he meets American Jack Carney (Bochner), who agrees to take the room.

Jack befriends several of the neighbors. Adrian lashes out at Jack, telling him that the neighbors aren't to be trusted. Despite Adrian's jealousy, Jack continues to socialize with several of them, becoming sexually involved with Laura, whose husband is frequently away. Claudia, the ticket seller at Adrian's cinema, is involved with a political committee investigating a series of murders that bear a striking resemblance to those committed by members of death squads that operated in Argentina during its last civil-military dictatorship (1976–1983).

Adrian learns that Jack has been lying about his employment and becomes paranoid that Jack is spying on him. He searches Jack's room and finds a number of photographs of Jack in paramilitary garb. Jack returns and calms a highly agitated Adrian, but his own suspicions are aroused when he realizes that Adrian has been in his room.

Adrian allows Claudia's committee to use his theatre to view footage of death squad members. Adrian is horrified to see the same sign in the film as appeared in some of the photos of Jack he'd found earlier. Jack, realizing that Adrian is growing more suspicious, falsifies Adrian's passport and prepares to leave Argentina. Unfortunately, the passport is expired and he can't leave. Jack picks up a young gay man and murders him for his passport—but then makes a hash of trying to paste his own photos into the dead man's passport.

Meanwhile, Adrian is devastated by the death of his mother. Adrian gets drunk and creates a disturbance in his apartment, concerning his neighbors. The following morning a television report of the murder of a young man leads the neighbors to think that Adrian has done something to Jack. That evening, the neighbors confront Adrian, forcing their way into his apartment and physically attacking him. Jack returns tends to the badly injured Adrian.

As Adrian attends his mother's funeral, Claudia comes to the apartment and recognizes Jack from the death squad photos. Adrian returns to find Claudia dead at Jack's hands. A clearly unhinged Adrian, who is as terrified of losing Jack as he is horrified by Claudia's murder, helps Jack dispose of the body. On the way out they run into Laura and her husband. Looking for an alibi, Jack says he's leaving for California in the morning.

After they dump the body in a garbage landfill outside the city, Adrian suggests they really go to California together and Jack agrees. Back at the apartment Adrian changes his mind and goes for Jack's gun in the living room. Jack realizes what's happening and begins strangling Adrian, but eventually lets him up. Adrian again goes for the gun and he and Jack struggle. With the gun pointed at him and with Adrian's finger on the trigger, Jack says "Do it" and the gun goes off.

Some days after, Adrian is having dinner when Laura comes to the door, seeking Jack's address in California. Adrian says he hasn't heard from him and shuts the door. He returns to the table and pours two glasses of wine, one for himself and one for Jack's corpse, which he has kept and sat at the table. The final scene shows a large crowd outside Adrian's cinema, which is now a porn theater. Adrian, who has never gone out in public without a suit and tie, stands in the building's doorway wearing a T-shirt and Jack's black leather jacket, while smoking a cigarette—all just as Jack used to do.




The doppelgänger or double is a recurring motif of Apartment Zero.[4][5] Adrian and Jack bear a physical resemblance (which Jack planned to exploit to escape the country). A character comments that Jack is a double of someone from his past. Jack and "Michael Weller" are a doubled pair, as are Jack and the murdered gay man. By film's end, instead of Jack becoming Adrian, Adrian instead has become Jack.

Another motif is classic films, especially films which have some connection to gay culture.[6][7] Adrian runs a revival house. He and Jack play a movie game together frequently.[8] Adrian's apartment is decorated with framed portraits of movie stars, including a number who were, or are perceived as being, gay or bisexual (including James Dean and Montgomery Clift). Adrian's choice of films also reflects a gay interest, including a Dean film festival and Compulsion, based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case.[9]



Apartment Zero received a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from a sample of 30 reviews.[10]

Critics were sharply divided on the film. Most of the reviews were negative, although the performances of Bochner and particularly Firth were widely praised.

Vincent Canby in the New York Times called the movie "hilariously awful," and stated, "A good deal of money has been spent on this nonsense, which was shot in Buenos Aires in English. It pretends to be a psychological-political melodrama but plays like the work of a dilettante; that is, the work of someone who wants to make movies, has the means to make them, but doesn't, as yet, know what he wants to make them about."[11] Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Dave Kehr called the film "A definite oddity, though not an entirely compelling one...turns what might have been a modestly successful psychological thriller into a messily failed art film."[12] Kevin Thomas's review in The Los Angeles Times lead with "Zero Doesn't Add Up as a Thriller," adding "Nothing, however, makes much sense right from the start. Unfortunately, the long-winded Apartment Zero is awkward to the point of ludicrousness."[13]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ a b Conviviendo con la muerte (Apartment Zero) Cinenacional.com
  2. ^ a b "Apartment Zero". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
  3. ^ 'Apartment Zero' (R), by Rita Kempley 11-04-1989, The Washington Post
  4. ^ "Apartment Zero (1988)". www.popmatters.com. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  5. ^ "Apartment Zero". www.culturecourt.com. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  6. ^ Kaminsky, Amy K. (2008). Argentina: Stories for a Nation. U of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816649488.
  7. ^ "Apartment Zero (1988)". Moria. 1999-05-01. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  8. ^ "The Studly American [APARTMENT ZERO] | Jonathan Rosenbaum". www.jonathanrosenbaum.net. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  9. ^ "Apartment Zero (1988)". www.popmatters.com. Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  10. ^ "Apartment Zero". Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-08-03.
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent. "'Apartment Zero' and Its Strange Tenant". Archived from the original on 2018-09-13. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  12. ^ Kehr, Dave. "THRILLER GONE BAD". Archived from the original on 2018-09-13. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  13. ^ THOMAS, KEVIN (20 October 1989). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Zero' Doesn't Add Up as a Thriller". Archived from the original on 2017-12-02. Retrieved 2018-09-13 – via LA Times.

External links[edit]