Roman Polanski’s 1976 English-language, Paris-set creepfest—revived for a week in a new 35mm print—was adapted from a novel by the French graphic artist Topor, but it may be the director’s quintessential movie. It’s an exercise in urban paranoia and mental disintegration that echoes or anticipates everything from Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby to Bitter Moon and The Pianist. Indeed, the movie is a true psychodrama: Polanski himself plays the eponymous protagonist, a furtive Polish-born Frenchman named Trelkovsky who rents the apartment of a recent suicide and is gradually driven mad by his mysteriously hostile neighbors.
Understated, at least at the beginning, The Tenant is also unrelenting as the hapless Trelkovsky is flummoxed or humiliated by one unsettling interaction after another. (The stellar international cast includes Isabelle Adjani, Shelley Winters, and Melvyn Douglas.) Naturally, The Tenant is a comedy—inspired, perhaps, by the joke that Trelkovsky is nowhere at home (least of all in his own skin) or by the Kafka wisecrack “In the fight between you and the world, back the world.”