Tag Archives: Roman Polanski

The Tenant (1976)

tenant 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loses his identity.

This intriguingly odd horror film may well be Roman Polanski’s best work and even better than Rosemary’s Baby as it manages to be scary in a unique way while also bringing to light many of the subtle ugliness of everyday life. Here Polanski plays a tenant who moves into an apartment were all the residents, and even the landlord (Melvyn Douglas), act slightly peculiar. The woman who lived in the apartment before him killed herself by jumping out the window and as he continues to live there he starts to feel a connection towards her while also getting the idea that somehow the other residents are in a conspiracy against him.

The film’s brilliance comes from the fact that the horror and tension is not based on any of the usual devices.  No ghosts, monsters, or psychos here. Instead the viewer gets sucked into the harsh realities of the modern urban world. The feelings of isolation, people who are cold and impersonal and apartments that are bleak and small as well as showing how these urban jungles swallow up our identities until we’re just another face-in-the- crowd.

This amazingly deep and penetrating study gets astutely underplayed with no action and little or any true scares. The tension comes through its psychological implications and the paranoia that only the Polanski character feels. Are these people really out to get him, or is it all just in his head? There are no definite answers, but theme and ideas are quite real. It’s a sort of twisted version of Rear Window and extension of Repulsion that may require a second viewing in order to completely appreciate.

Polanski scores on all levels as his performance is interesting and his ability as a director to make you feel the smallness and bleakness of the character’s apartment is also amazing. You are given a very real sense of the room’s dimensions without any inclination that it was done on a stage, or with the presence of a film crew. The eerie segments are subtle but successful with imagery that is both strange and lasting.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Repulsion (1965)

repulsion 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: She loses her mind.

Love or loathe him one thing is for sure the controversial Roman Polanski has made some great movies and since today marks his 80th birthday I thought it would be good to review one of his films this being his first English language one. The story, which was written by Polanski and Gerard Brach centers on Carol (Catherine Deneuve) a beautiful but lonely young woman living in an apartment with her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) and Helen’s boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry). Carol seems detached and troubled and when Helen and Michael go off for the weekend Carol begins to suffer hallucinations while inside the apartment that becomes increasingly more frightening and eventually leads to murder.

The film works at a slow and deliberate pace that some viewers may feel put-off by. Personally I felt it was effective and made it more realistic although things really don’t start to get intense until the final hour. For me it was the little things that made it intriguing for instance the way Carol becomes fascinated with the distorted reflection of herself in a teapot, or a rolling bottle of nail polish. Nothing is over-the-top, but instead subtle and restrained. This is one of the few films that seem to understand the thought process of the mentally ill and makes you feel like you are really inside their head and seeing things as they do, which is what makes it so unnerving. The low-key approach works because like with an actual person having a breakdown it starts with little things that slowly morph into bigger ones.

Polanski shows incredible control over the material. The stark black-and-white cinematography helps to heighten the ugliness of the situation. The variety of camera angles and movements creates an almost hypnotic effect. I loved the way, as Carol gets further into her demented state, that the dimensions of the apartment begins to change, or the hands coming out of the walls. My only complaint is I wished some of these effects had been played up even more. The rape sequences are quite effective and surprisingly explicit for its time period. Yet instead of hearing Carol’s screams during these moments we instead hear the ticking of a clock, which somehow makes it even more disturbing.

Deneuve gives one of her best performances and she was at the peak of youthful beauty here. The blank almost zombie-like look in her eyes is penetrating. You get the feeling that she not only truly understands the madness of her character, but actually is the character. Patrick Wymark is also memorable as the landlord who goes from being bombastic and demanding to kind and cuddling and eventually sexually deviant in a matter of only 10 minutes.

Normally I always like a background to the characters and when they are missing or vague I find it a weakness to the script while here it is strangely a strength. We can surmise that she was most likely abused sexually when she was younger, but the who, when, and why is never made clear. This though somehow makes the character and the situation more compelling and reflects back to how psychologically fragile the human condition can be and how these things can happen to anyone. The final tracking shot, which stops on a picture of Carol as a child showing an angry look on her face is great.

The imagery and psychological approach to this thing is still one-of-a-kind. The movie viewing experience on this one remains potent and aptly deserves its classic status.

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My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Compton Films

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Frantic (1988)

frantic

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is his wife?

Dr. Richard Walker (Harrison Ford) and his wife Sondra (Betty Buckley) travel to Paris where he is to take part in a medical conference. They find when they get to the hotel room that they have a suitcase that looks like theirs, but is the wrong one. They call the mistake into baggage claims, but think nothing more of it. As Richard takes a shower his wife gets a call and then disappears. When Richard gets out of the shower he can’t find her anywhere. Asking around he finds some clues that leads him to believe that she was kidnapped and that it may have something to do with the mysterious suitcase.

The film starts out well with an interesting premise and some good Hitchcockian touches, but eventually it becomes just another conventional thriller that gets overblown and is full of loopholes. One that really annoyed me the first time I saw it has to do with Richard going to a local bar to ask if anyone has any information. He does this twice and both times a bar patron that is sitting next to him overhears the conversation and comes up with a crucial bit of information. If this were to happen once it would be considered a really lucky break, but to happen twice makes it seem too convenient and coincidental. However, the biggest plot hole is when the bad guys come to the hotel to kidnap the wife and hold her for ransom until they get their suitcase when instead they should have just taken the suitcase since it was RIGHT THERE to begin with.

Ford’s brash demeanor doesn’t seem particularly right for the part. Normally he can get away with it and even make it charming in a caustic sort of way, but here it doesn’t work. I did like that everything is seen from his point of view and the viewer is as perplexed as he is about the circumstances. One part has him crumpling up a piece of paper and eating it and I kept wondering how many takes they made him go through on that one before they got it right.

Emmanuelle Seigner, who at the time was director Roman Polanski’s girlfriend, comes off best. The two married about a year after the film was released and now 23 years and 2 kids later they are still a couple. She plays Michelle who Richard meets along the way and helps him find the bad guys with her inside information. I liked her youthful appeal and the contrasting ages and perspectives between her and Ford’s character make their scenes together interesting. However, the punk outfit she wears does nothing for her and looks tacky and at this point woefully out of style.

The on-location shooting in Paris helps give the film an extra appeal. I realize this is mainly because of Polanski’s exile there, but it is to the film’s benefit. I liked how the viewer mainly just sees the street scenes and local pubs and roadways giving the whole thing a sort of tourist perspective.

There is one exciting and very well filmed sequence showing Richard walking on a narrow and steep rooftop in order to get into Michelle’s apartment that proves to be the film’s most intense moment. Otherwise this thing never clicks and tends to get less suspenseful as it goes on. For basic entertainment it is okay, but there is little if any payoff. This pales badly alongside Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura, which is another film with pretty much the same premise, but instead that one takes things in a much more offbeat, fascinating, and mind-expanding direction.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 26, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roman Polanski

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video