Directors' Cut: Funny peculiar: Ethan and Joel Coen on the brilliant absurdity of Roman Polanski's horror comedy, The Tenant

Sometimes, when we're talking to each other about someone unsavoury, we use a line from Roman Polanski's The Tenant (1976) to describe them. Referring to his landlords, the character played by Polanski in the film says 'These people are monsters - they play football with human heads.'

That film has got a great plot. Polanski rents an apartment vacated by an attempted suicide and strange things happen. In one scene we especially like, a neighbour invites him down to his flat and puts this hideous martial music on the phonograph. What's the saying? - 'Military justice is to justice as martial music is to music.' Anyway, this music is very loud and this guy says, 'If the neighbours don't like it, to hell with them]' The dialogue's in English, but it sounds translated - it might have been dubbed into English, actually.

The scene's absurd in a narrative sense; it doesn't do a damn thing for the story. Everything in the movie builds up the same sense of this weird apartment block. The whole visual style is languorous and spooky: it starts in the courtyard with this big pan from the apartment window seen from the outside, down to the ground floor - Sven Nykvist shot it. So it's not as if Polanski needs that added detail. But the scene's there anyway. It's what we call a Kafka break]

Part of what's funny about it is Polanski's persona - he's just there, sitting very small on the couch like a Gogol character, next to this boor in a really ugly early Seventies suit listening to martial music. He plays the same sort of guy as his characters in Dance of the Vampires and Pirates - this little put-upon schmendrick. In another scene, some other guy comes into a bar off the street, in a good mood, and says 'Drinks for everyone . . . ' - pointing at Polanski's character - ' . . except him.'

The film has a great ending, too: Polanski jumps out the same window as the previous tenant. But he doesn't succeed in killing himself, so he has to haul himself back up four flights of stairs to hurl himself out a second time. As a director he always goes beyond the obvious - the obvious narrative drift of the movie is that the guy's going to end up throwing himself out the window, but he then undercuts that by having it not quite work. Yeah, you really can't beat Polanski for laughs.

We've always been big Polanski fans, and this is one of his best movies. He's a great craftsman and story-teller, and he has a great sense of humour. It's very wholesome, and that's something you don't see that often. Because The Tenant is a funny movie. At the time everyone thought it was just creepy - it has been much misunderstood.

You know, people frequently have trouble laughing at things that don't announce themselves as comedy in a broad way. Most American comedy is, like, just product rather than particularly interesting. Formulaic. But then that's the nature of the beast.

The Coen Brothers directed 'Blood Simple', 'Raising Arizona', 'Miller's Crossing' and 'Barton Fink'. Their new comedy, 'The Hudsucker Proxy', continues to play in the West End of London. It opens around the country on 30 Sept

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor