The Tenant

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For the novel by Roland Topor, see The Tenant (novel).
The Tenant (Le Locataire)
original film poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by Hercules Bellville
Written by Roland Topor (novel)
Gérard Brach
Roman Polanski
Music by Philippe Sarde
Cinematography Sven Nykvist
Edited by Françoise Bonnot
Marianne Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • 26 May 1976 (France)
  • 11 June 1976 (USA)
  • 8 October 1976 (Finland)
Running time
125 min
Country France
  • English
  • French
Box office $5,132,555[1][2]

The Tenant is a 1976 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.[3] The film is 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.[4] The film had a total of 534,637 admissions in France.[5]

Plot summary[edit]

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.


Production notes[edit]

  • Although typically labelled as the third part of Polanski's so-called "Apartment Trilogy", this came about more by luck than by design. The film adaptation was originally to have been made by British director Jack Clayton, who was attached to the project around seven years before Polanski made it. According to Clayton's biographer Neil Sinyard, Clayton originally tried to make the film ca. 1969 for Universal Studios, from a script by Edward Albee, but this version never made it into production after the relationship between Albee and the studio soured. Paramount bought the rights on Clayton's advice in 1971. Clayton returned to the project in the mid-1970s, and a rough draft script by Christopher Hampton was written while Clayton was preparing The Great Gatsby. By the time Clayton had delivered Gatsby to Paramount in March 1974, he had learned from Robert Evans that Polanski was interested in the project and wanted to play the lead role. While Clayton was occupied preparing foreign language versions of Gatsby for the European market, Paramount studio head Barry Diller began negotiations with Polanksi. Although Clayton later insisted that he was never specifically asked if he was still interested, and never said "no" to it, Diller wrongly assumed that Clayton had lost interest and transferred the project to Polanski, without asking Clayton. When he found out, Clayton called Diller in September 1974, expressing his dismay that Diller had given another director a film which (Clayton insisted) had been specifically purchased by the studio for him, and for doing so without consultation.[6]
  • Decoration was designed by Pierre Guffroy, the costumes by Jacques Schmidt. Sven Nykvist was responsible for the photography, Jean-Pierre Ruh (fr) for the sound.
  • 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."[7][8][9]


Although The Tenant was poorly received on its release, Roger Ebert declaring it "not merely bad -- it's an embarrassment,"[10] it has since become a cult favorite, being named by Bruce Campbell in an interview with Craig Ferguson.[11] The film holds a 90% Certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 29 reviews.


  1. ^ "The Tenant". Box Office Mojo. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Vincent Canby (21 June 1976). "The Tenant". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Tenant". Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  5. ^ "The Tenant". Jpbox-office-com. 
  6. ^ Neil Sinyard, Jack Clayton (Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 212
  7. ^ Meyncke, Amanda Mae (2 July 2008). "Roman Polanski's Apartment Trilogy Still As Artful As Ever". 
  8. ^ Thompson, Anne (25 July 2007). "Rush Hour 3: Ratner Casts Polanski as Sadistic Cop". 
  9. ^ "A Polanski Guide To Urban Living". 19 August 2009. 
  10. ^
  11. ^

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