*2020 edit: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention director Roman Polanski’s conviction of statutory rape of a thirteen-year-old girl. It’s something to consider before deciding to watch any of his movies.
Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski, who also directed) has just moved into a Paris apartment where the previous tenant, Simone (Dominique Poulange), threw herself out of the window. He sees a possible motive to her jump, as his neighbors are frighteningly loony; they’re constantly accusing him of being noisy, which he isn’t, and his neighbor Madame Gaderian (Lila Kedrova) poops in the hallway. Also, odd events occur, such as when Trelkovsky finds a tooth in the wall; later one of his own teeth goes missing, only to turn up in the wall. The local café owners seem to insist on treating him like Simone; they offer him Simone’s brand of cigarettes and not his, and try to serve him hot chocolate instead of the coffee he ordered. His behavior becomes increasingly erratic (including purchasing a wig and wearing dresses) as he suspects everyone around him is trying to make him into Simone and coerce him to kill himself.
The most wonderful thing about the film is its bizarreness. The building’s one bathroom across the hall shows people—including Trelkovsky—staring in at Trelkovsky at all hours. It’s also pretty unnerving; the scene when Trelkovsky finds the tooth made #65 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. The apartment building itself is creepy—it’s dark, cramped, and decrepit. Eeriest of all, throughout the film we’re left to wonder if Trelkovsky is delusional or if his neighbors and even the townspeople are in on a conspiracy. There’s a really disturbing scene when Trelkovsky sees his neighbors putting on a circus in the building’s courtyard, with Madame Gaderian and her daughter being ostracized and tormented…until they notice him watching, and they all turn on him. Without knowing what’s going to happen next or who to trust, we’re as paranoid as Trelkovsky.
Give it a look if you like Polanski (who looks surprisingly pretty in drag) or unconventional movies.