BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jul 1st, 2003 •

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(Paramount Home Entertainment) 1976
125 mins / 1.85:1 aspect ratio on 16:9 monitors / Rated ‘R’.

A couple of strange things about the DVD box cover before we get into the film.

On the back, the Director of Photography’s credit follows Polanski’s. What’n the hell’s up with that? And on the front, the publicity department calls the film ‘a psychological suspense thriller by Roman Polanski,’ which is euphemistic for ‘we are at a humiliating loss about what genre to fit this into…’ How they must have hated the director when they got a look at this one and were put to the test of hatching a marketing plan. The back cover gets it better.

Polanski not only directs and co-scripts, but also stars as Trelkovsky, a meek office worker who stumbles on a good deal for an apartment in Paris, that is if the current tenant, who jumped out of her window, finally croaks. He finesses his way into renting the oppressive living space, and an erratic path to madness lies ahead.

The mastering of the disc is marvelous. Not only are there no negative nicks to bother the perfectionists, but the subtle gradations of Trelkovsky’s dreary living environment are faithfully captured, every bit as well as 35mm prints were able to. Sound, which plays so great a part in the black humor and dislocation of this mood piece is sturdy and abrasive. The problems with the film have not diminished, though we at least have options to play with: the English dubbing was always a turn-off, but now, switching to the French track with English subtitles, we get the following — Polanski dubbing himself effectively, somewhat better readings for the French speaking cast, somewhat less effective readings from the French ADR voices over the spoken English, and the loss of my favorite line in the film (when a frustrated Trelkovsky finds his apartment robbed and then hears a neighbor pounding on the ceiling as if he’s been making a racquet, he says, on the English track, “I know; I’m making the noise.” The English subtitle over the French track, however, reads, “I know; I’m making a noise.” Not the same impact.)

What made Polanski’s THE PIANIST so remarkable was its blend of an existing story (there was a book) with the director’s own vivid memories. Here’s the balance again, in a film made not too long after the horrific death of Sharon Tate. Shrouded in paranoia, starring Polanski himself (so there could be no doubt), dressing as a woman and claiming to be pregnant, the director is rolling out a dream carpet in which his real life and that of his deceased wife’s merge into an inescapable nightmare. There is certainly the ‘dread’ written of on the back cover, but there’s a palpable guilt as well, that hangs over the story and grows more fecund with each act.

When I met Polanski in Paris some years ago, all he wanted to do was talk technical. It was the brief heyday of the Laser Disc, and he wasn’t able to get many of them in France, so I brought some over for him. He was particularly delighted to talk about the elaborate LoumaCrane shot that opens THE TENANT. As to the film’s narrative overlapping his own life, that he was less willing to talk about. But so much in THE TENANT is common to his work – the paranoid, isolated lives of fearful people falling apart, suspicious of neighbors, suggestive of the tenacious lifelong horror of a five year old running from the Nazis and never knowing whom to trust. These threads can be found in REPULSION, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE PIANIST of course, and there are related elements in CHINATOWN, FRANTIC, THE NINTH GATE, and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN.

With the success of THE PIANIST, there has been an outpouring of Polanski on DVD. In addition to Paramount’s THE TENANT, New Line has just released BITTER MOON and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN. Maybe with the added incentive of Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN we’ll finally get a home theatrical gander at PIRATES, his big budget comedy starring Walter Matthau which I wanted to catch at the Ziegfeld, only it left before I had a chance.

While Polanski was pleased with laserdisc technology, he didn’t think its quality was up to 35mm. He admits on the NINTH GATE commentary track to having a very different feeling about DVD.

Produced by Andrew Braunsberg.
Music by Philippe Sarde.
Screenplay by Gerard Brach and Roman Polanski,
based on the novel by Roland Topor.
Director of Photography Sven Nykvist.
Directed by Roman Polanski.

Roman Polanski,
Isabelle Adjani,
Melvyn Douglas,
Jo Van Fleet,
Lila Kedrova,
Shelley Winters

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