Meek office worker Trelkovsky moves into an apartment to replace a previous tenant, Simone Choule, who apparently attempted suicide by jumping out of a window. Trelkovsky is either subtly bullied by his neighbours or succumbs to extreme paranoia, and gradually comes more and more to identify with Simone.
Based on a novel by Roland Topor (Renfield in Herzog’s Nosferatu), this seems almost an anthology of Roman Polanski’s favourite, oppressive themes – presenting a Paris apartment which is as threatening as the London digs of Repulsion, nasty neighbours who are as demonic as those in Rosemary’s Baby and identity-switch games as humiliating as Cul-de-Sac.
A difference is that Polanski casts himself in the central role, constantly having to deny that he’s a foreigner, suggesting this is an even more personal, painful film.
Trelkovsky suffers persecution from apparently everyone in sight: a cafe serves undrinkable chocolate he nevertheless drinks without complaint, a housewarming party for his patronising or bullying office colleagues excites complaints about his alleged noisiness that reach a humiliating height when he is blamed for the racket made by thieves ransacking his apartment while he’s away, he nearly lands a gorgeous girl but shrinks away when he suspects she’s in on the conspiracy, a busybody turns against him when he refuses to sign a petition to evict a neighbour but this lone heroic stand means that when the persecuted woman takes a shit on every other tenant’s doormat he has to scoop up some excrement and put it outside his own flat so he won’t be blamed. The final reel, which finds Polanski dressed as a woman and twice throwing himself out of a window, is among the most despairing in the cinema, and acutely painful to watch.
A disturbing and poignant anthology of Roman Polanskis favourite, oppressive themes.