I knew of Roland Topor from his work in graphics. I had been always interested in his dark, surreal, cynically satirical, noir, but brilliant illustrations. So when his book The Tenant (the original title of the 1964 first French edition was Le locataire chimérique) was published in 1976, I bought it without hesitation and I read it in one go.
As is often the case, the translation of the French version and its publication in Italian were driven by the release, in Italy, of the movie directed by Roman Polanski (with the Italian title L’inquilino del terzo piano, the original title being Le locataire), who was already a celebrated director and a leading movie-maker (known for being the director of important movies such as Chinatown – starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston; a dramatic version of Macbeth; but above all Rosemary’s Baby, a cult movie and a masterpiece of demonic cinema, starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes). And if Polanski is a champion with the movie camera, so Topor excels in graphics and writing, his arts being magically pervaded by black humor and surrealism.
The account, immersed in a shady, worrying and oppressive atmosphere from the beginning, tells the story of a man (played by Polanski in the film), who rents an apartment whose previous tenant committed suicide by throwing herself from the window. The atmosphere in the building is heavy, due to an unfriendly and very severe owner and suspicious, intolerant neighbors, adverse to any contact. Gradually pushed into a sort of isolation, the anguished protagonist begins to behave more and more strangely, wearing women’s clothing for instance, and assuming the identity of the previous tenant, whose belongings are scattered throughout the apartment.
I will not disclose the end, because The Tenant is a psychological thriller of high impact, and the cinematographic adaptation does justice to the book.
Polanski, as I said, is a master of the cinema, and in his movie he is able to recreate the environment and the emotions of the book perfectly, gradually and cleverly revealing the circumstances and moods of the various characters.
The protagonist slowly drifts, trapped, into an agitated nightmare that leaves the viewer (or the reader) breathless. Although there are some contemporary elements in the setting, the director displays remarkable ability in giving the images a timeless quality, sometimes making us feel that the story is taking place in an earlier period than the one in which it is seemingly set.
As I also said about Harold and Maude in the third issue of Inkroci, the adaptation of the literary work is impeccable and successful. Something which we know can never be taken for granted.
Translation by Irene Greguoli (edited by Roma O’Flaherty)