Adrian LeDuc (Firth) is the owner of a revival house in Buenos Aires. Adrian is emotionally repressed, prone to suspicion and paranoia, devoted to old movies and to his mother, who resides in a nursing home, suffering from dementia. Adrian visits her frequently, holding conversations that, as her illness progresses, become increasingly one-sided. Adrian is a tenant in a rundown apartment building; he lives in apartment 10, although the 1 is missing from his door (hence the film's title). Apart from his mother, the core of his emotional life is movies--specifically classic American movies and stars. Apartment Zero opens with a shot of Adrian in his theater, watching the final scene of Touch of Evil.
As his theater, Cine York, loses more and more money, Adrian advertises for a roommate to share his apartment. After several unsatisfactory applicants he meets the handsome, charming, and macho American Jack Carney (Bochner). Adrian is clearly attracted to Jack and Jack is clearly aware of it. Jack agrees to take the room. They quickly settle into a domestic routine, with Adrian taking over laundry and cooking duties for Jack and Jack joining Adrian for films at his cinema. They also begin to bond emotionally.
In contrast to Adrian's standoffishness, Jack establishes relationships with several of the neighbors, a rather odd bunch. Adrian, upset and jealous, lashes out at Jack, telling him that the neighbors aren't to be trusted. Despite Adrian's jealousy Jack continues to socialize with several of them, including becoming sexually involved with a female neighbor (with implications that he's similarly involved with two of the male neighbors as well). Claudia, the ticket seller at Adrian's cinema, is involved with a political committee that's investigating a series of murders that bear a striking resemblance to those committed by members of death squads that operated in Argentina dating back to the 1970s.
Adrian learns that Jack has been lying about being employed with a local computer company and becomes paranoid that Jack is spying on him but at the same time terrified that Jack will leave him. He searches Jack's room and finds a number of photographs of Jack in paramilitary garb. When Jack returns, a highly agitated Adrian begs him, "If that's a mask, either take it off now or leave it on forever." Jack calms him but his own suspicions are aroused when he realizes that Adrian's been in his room.
Despite being himself apolitical, Adrian allows Claudia's committee to use his theatre to view footage of death squad members. Adrian watches some of it and is horrified to see the same sign in the film as appeared in some of the photos of Jack he'd found earlier. Jack, realizing that Adrian is growing more suspicious, falsifies Adrian's passport and prepares to leave Argentina. Unfortunately for him, the passport is expired and he can't leave. Jack picks up a gay man at the airport and goes to a hotel with him, where he murders him for his passport--but then makes a hash of trying to paste his own photos into the dead man's passport. Claudia spots Jack in a death squad photo. He's identified as "Michael Weller" and listed as dead, but was identified only by his papers and a ring.
Meanwhile, Adrian is devastated by the death of his mother. Adrian gets drunk and creates a disturbance in his apartment, concerning his neighbors. The following morning a television report of the murder of a young man ironically leads the neighbors to think that Adrian has done something to Jack. That evening, the neighbors confront Adrian, forcing their way into his apartment and physically attacking him. Jack--unsuccessful in solving his passport problem--returns just then and soothes and tends to the badly injured Adrian.
As Adrian attends his mother's funeral, Claudia comes to the apartment and recognizes Jack. Adrian returns to find Claudia dead at Jack's hands. Jack tries to charm him, telling him "let me clean up and I'll put the mask back on, OK?" A clearly unhinged Adrian, as terrified of losing Jack as he is horrified by the murder, helps Jack dispose of the body. On the way out they run into one of the neighbors and Jack says he's leaving for California in the morning.
After they dump the body, Adrian suggests they really go to California together and Jack enthusiastically agrees. Back at the apartment Adrian changes his mind and goes for Jack's gun in the living room. Jack comes out of his room and Adrian runs back toward his. Jack realizes what's happening and they both go for the gun. Jack gets the upper hand and begins strangling Adrian, but can't go through with it and lets him up. Adrian again goes for the gun and he and Jack struggle again. With the gun pointed at him and with Adrian's finger on the trigger, Jack says "Do it" and the gun goes off.
Some days after, Adrian is having dinner when a neighbor comes to the door seeking Jack's address in California. Adrian says he hasn't heard from him and shuts the door. He returns to the table and pours two glasses of wine, one for himself and one for Jack's corpse, which he has kept and sat at the table. The final scene shows Adrian's cinema, with a fairly large crowd--all men--pouring out--apparently the lean days are over. That's because the cinema is now a porn theater. Adrian, who has never throughout the film gone out in public without a suit and tie (and umbrella), leaves the building wearing a tee-shirt and Jack's black leather jacket, smoking a cigarette--all just as Jack used to do.Hart Bochner - Jack Carney
Colin Firth - Adrian LeDuc
Dora Bryan - Margaret McKinney
Liz Smith - Mary Louise McKinney
Fabrizio Bentivoglio - Carlos Sanchez-Verne
James Telfer - Vanessa
Mirella D'Angelo - Laura Werpachowsky
Juan Vitali - Alberto Werpachowsky
Cipe Lincovsky - Mrs. Treniev
Francesca d'Aloja - Claudia
Miguel Ligero - Mr. Palma
Elvia Andreoli - Adrian's Mother
Marikena Monti - Tango Singer
Luis Romero - Projectionist
Max Berliner - Prospective Tenant
Debora Bianco - Girl in Cafe
Federico D'Elía - Boy in Cafe
Raúl Florido - Jack's Argentine Contact
Claudio Ciacci - Young Man in Cinema
Gabriel Posniak - Dead Man
Darwin Sanchez - Police Inspector
Daniel Queirolo - Young Cop
Miguel Ángel Porro - Taxi Driver
Ezequiel Donovan - Foreign Element
Eduardo Peralta Ramos - Foreign Element
John Kamps - Foreign Element
Göran Johansson - Foreign Element
Lisanne Cole - Political Group in Cinema
Germán Palacios - Member of Political Group in Cinema
Horacio Erman - Political Group in Cinema
Inés Estévez - Political Group in Cinema
The doppelgänger or double is a recurring motif of Apartment Zero. Adrian and Jack bear a physical resemblance (which Jack planned to exploit to escape the country). A character comments that Jack is a double of someone from his past. Jack and "Michael Weller" are a doubled pair, as are Jack and the murdered gay man. By film's end, instead of Jack becoming Adrian, Adrian instead has become Jack.
Another motif is classic films, especially films which have some connection to gay culture. Adrian runs a revival house. He and Jack play a movie game together frequently. Adrian's apartment is decorated with framed portraits of movie stars, including a number who were, or are perceived as being, gay or bisexual (including James Dean and Montgomery Clift). Adrian's choice of films also reflects a gay interest, including a Dean film festival and Compulsion, based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case.
Apartment Zero received a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from a sample of 29 reviews.Cognac Festival du Film Policier Critics Award winner and Special Jury Prize - Martin Donovan (1990)
Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for Best Film (1989)
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) nomination (1989)