Saturday, May 8, 2010

For Rent

Roman Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy" consists of Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and Le Locataire/The Tenant. Each movie is subtle and terrifying. They each revolve around an apartment that brings it's tenant into sinister situations. Paranoia, isolation, claustrophobia and evil abound.

Polanski directed and wrote (all or in part) all three films.

Repulsion tells the story of Carole, a young woman whose fear of men sends her spiraling into madness when her roommate leaves for the weekend. This is the only black and white film in the series, yet the imagery is still vivid, and Carole's isolation and resulting insanity are palpable. Here, the apartment is a reflection of Carole's mind. As one deteriorates, so does the other, yet Carole doesn't seem to notice. She is plagued by terrible hallucinations. But her unfounded fear of others keeps her from discovering that what she should truly be afraid of is herself. The cinematography here is striking, and Catherine Deneuve gives an amazing performance as Carole. The hallucinations are so well-done. The rape scene in particular was every bit as scary as the infamous bed scene in Nightmare on Elm Street. But Polanski doesn't need buckets of blood to make your heart pound. Unlike the other Apartment Trilogy films, there are no sinister outside forces. Carole's greatest threat is her own sick mind. Will she be saved?

Rosemary's Baby takes us on a 180 as Rosemary's paranoia is entirely founded. Yet, she is so distrustful of herself that she cannot seem to accept it. Much like the next film, Rosemary finds herself in a horrifying situation all because she was unlucky enough to take an apartment. She is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I thought knowing Rosemary's fate (and who hasn't heard about it?) would make the movie less scary. But the music, the ever-tightening camera shots showing the isolation and claustrophobia are all the more frightening because I so badly wanted her to get out. Mia Farrow is the perfect blend of innocence and strength as Rosemary. Polanski extracts wonderful performances from his leading ladies. He had wanted Rosemary to be a full-figured, girl-next-door type. Like his wife Sharon Tate. Yet Farrow works because she is so fragile. She seems like a feather would break her. Her struggle is heartbreaking, and you root for her every step of the way.
Now, I cannot imagine what it must have been like, having just experienced huge success on the heels of a movie where an innocent pregnant wife is victimized by a fiendish cult, for Polanski to have lose his own innocent pregnant wife, and their unborn baby, to a fiendish cult. A cult that targeted them simply because they lived in the house of someone who had once wronged Charles Manson. Sharon Tate was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The coincidence is chilling.

Le Locataire/The Tenant takes the fear of ourselves and the fear of others and blends them. It was clear in the prior films what was real and what was not. In this film, it is not clear. Polanski stars, uncredited, as Mr. Trelkovsky. A man who rents an apartment, and learns that the prior tenant met an unfortunate end. From there, he is drawn into a whirlpool of paranoia. The neighbors are paranoid, he is paranoid, and it seems that no one can be trusted, not even himself. This movie has so many twists and turns, and the subtley of everything makes it all very disturbing. We're riding right along with Trelkovsky. Reality and paranoid hallucinations begin to blend. The pressure builds, and Trelkovsky is slowly driven insane, but no one else seems quite sane. His own actions and the actions of others are equally responsible for the tragedies that are occuring.

It is no surprise that the terror in this film is blamed on both the outer and inner forces, seeing as though Polanski blamed himself for his late wife's murder as he did the Manson Family. He was unfaithful, he should have been home that night but chose, instead, to stay in Europe a little longer.
All the three films start out quite bright, and as the tension builds, they become progressively darker and darker, until it seems like it is always night, and the main character is living in a nightmare.

These are the kind of thrillers that put slasher films to shame. Slasher films build to a jump every few minutes, until the jumps come so closely together that you're on the edge of your seat.
These thrillers build and build and build- but the jump never comes. You are left squirming on the edge of your seat, begging for the jump. Begging for a gush of blood or monster to emerge simply so that the suspense can end. But your relief is delayed, and ultimately denied. The knot in your stomach never unties, and the credits roll. You're left disturbed and haunted.
That's something you'll never forget.


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