When this film came out in 1976, critical reaction was strongly negative. Only one writer I can recall -- Penelope Gilliatt in the New Yorker magazine -- had the insight to see beyond the general weirdness, focusing on the title character's increasing paranoia and alienation.
The unnerving plot gets underway when Trelkovsky, played disarmingly by Polanski, moves into a creepy Parisian apartment building, into a flat in which the previous tenant committed suicide. Trelkovsky gradually grows suspicious that some of his disgruntled, crabby neighbors would like to see him do the same thing. The outstanding cast includes Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet, Shelley Winters and Isabelle Adjani, all seemingly having a great time with an utterly mesmerizing story.
The film has high production values, including gorgeous, moody photography by the great Sven Nykvist (who often photographed for Ingmar Bergman), and an appropriately eerie score by Philippe Sarde. The DVD transfer is beautifully clear.
Not everyone will warm up to the bizarre, shocking ending -- and I can't possibly give away any of the details -- but suffice to say that it shows Polanski in a way that few have seen him. For all the attention that "Chinatown" gave this director in 1974, this film, coming two years later, is just about as striking in a completely different vein.