Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. France, 1976. Marianne Productions. Screenplay by Gerard Brach, Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Roland Topor. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Produced by Andrew Braunsberg. Music by Philippe Sard. Production Design by Pierre Guffroy. Costume Design by Jacques Schmidt. Film Editing by Francoise Bonnot. Cannes Film Festival 1976.
Roman Polanski scores a rare misfire with this unintelligible thriller. He stars as a man who shows up at a Parisian apartment building looking for a vacancy, which he learns is available because the previous renter threw herself out a window and is dying in the hospital. Once he moves in he begins to suspect that the unfortunate woman was the victim of threats and bullying from her neighbours, his fellow tenants constantly accusing him of making too much noise, harassing him at every available opportunity and, he begins to suspect, causing him physical harm. His identity begins to blend with the suicide woman and he begins to take on her phobias at the same time that he announces himself determined to beat his enemies at their own game, but is he being paranoid or are they actually out to get him? The rewards for finding this out are minimal, while the few moments of actually chilling imagery (the stock figures standing in the bathroom window across the courtyard really are terrifying) and impeccable cast (a host of Oscar winners among them, Shelley Winters the standout) don’t make up for the obscure plotting and bad dialogue recording. All the French actors (including Isabelle Adjani) are dubbed by English-speaking actors and it creates a shallow aural landscape that makes the film very hard to take seriously. The whole thing plays like bad giallo made by a no-account hack trying to imitate Polanski, and the plotting offers elements that Repulsion, Cul-de-Sac and Rosemary’s Baby already made better use of.