On the top floor of an abandoned tenement, Harry Lesser struggles to complete the novel he has been writing for almost ten years. Then Willie Spearmint, black militant and aspiring writer, moves into another part of the building to work on his own book. Written by
Watching The Tenants has been a interesting experience for me. It is the first film I have ever seen where I have shuttled at speed through parts of the (non)action - and I can normally watch anything from turgid action movies to Serbo-Croat indie and find them fascinating.
The Tenants is frustratingly sluggish and over-orchestrated. One of the main problems of the script is there is little realistic character dialogue, apart from the set pieces where characters 'collide' in a very structured setting (to make this work, the film needed to feel more conceptual, which it didn't). This leads to a lack of realistic character development; everyone seems two-dimensional.
The worse for this is the character of Bill Spear, aka Snoop Dogg. I found his characterization very uncomfortable and very unsympathetic. At one point, I even stopped the film because I got so annoyed by the character's aggressive, violent and monotonal delivery, the lack of any other personality layer apart from that of the reactionary "on" switch (which gets really predictable after a while) and I so desperately wanted him to have some redeeming qualities. However, one reason for this jar might be the nebulous time scape of the film (supposedly 70s, it feels and looks more early noughties). If it had been more securely fixed in the 70s, his character might have seemed more understandable.
The lighting of the film was also awkward. All the way through, the soundtrack attempts to provide a certain gritty, jazz-infused atmosphere that just did not come off, largely because the set was too well-lit.
The Tenants, to me, is an unbelievable film. It doesn't depict real people or propose any interesting ways of thinking about race, identity or the life of a writer, be they white or black.
Strangely, I came away with the feeling that this project needed David Lynch; his eerie, clastrophobic and obsessive look and feel would have lifted both the actors and the script into something quite remarkable.
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