People on Sunday
|People on Sunday|
German film poster
|Directed by||Robert Siodmak
Edgar G. Ulmer
|Produced by||Edgar G. Ulmer
|Written by||Billy Wilder
Curt Siodmak (story)
Wolfgang von Waltershausen
|Distributed by||Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek/Berlin (Germany)
|4 February 1930|
People on Sunday (German: Menschen am Sonntag) is a 1930 German silent drama film directed by Curt and Robert Siodmak from a screenplay by Billy Wilder. The film follows the lives of a group of residents of Berlin on a summer's day during the interwar period. Hailed as a work of genius, it is a pivotal film not only in the development of German cinema but also of Hollywood. In addition to the Siodmak brothers and Wilder, the film features the talents of Edgar G. Ulmer (producer), Fred Zinnemann (cinematography) and Eugen Schüfftan, who had developed the Schüfftan process for Metropolis three years earlier.
The film is subtitled "a film without actors" and was filmed over a succession of Sundays in the summer of 1929. The actors were amateurs whose day jobs were those that they portrayed in the film—the opening titles inform the audience that these actors have all returned to their normal jobs by the time of the film's release in February 1930. They were part of a collective of young Berliners who wrote and produced the film themselves on a shoestring budget. This lightly scripted, loosely observational work of New Objectivity became a surprise hit.
People on Sunday is notable not only for its portrayal of daily life in Berlin shortly before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, but also as an early work by the future Hollywood writer/director Billy Wilder before he moved to the United States to escape from Hitler's Germany. For decades, it was assumed that Wilder's mother, grandmother and stepfather perished at Auschwitz, but his Austrian biographer Andreas Hutter discovered, in 2011, that they were murdered at different and disparate places: his mother, Eugenia "Gitla" Siedlisker - in 1943 at Plaszow; his stepfather, Bernard "Berl" Siedlisker, in 1942 at Belzec and his grandmother, Balbina Baldinger, died in 1943 in the ghetto in Nowy Targ.
The film is also the directorial debut of the Siodmak Brothers. The film was produced by Seymour Nebenzal, cousin to the Siodmaks, whose father Heinrich put up the funds to make the movie. This began a thirty-year collaborative friendship between Nebenzal and Wilder.
The film opens at Bahnhof Zoo train station one Saturday morning. Its opening scenes show the bustling traffic of central Berlin.
The action of the movie centres on five central characters, and takes place over a single weekend. At the start of the movie, a handsome young man, Wolfgang (a wine dealer in real life) sees a pretty girl (Christl - a film extra) who seems to be waiting in the street for someone who has not arrived. He takes her for an ice cream, teases her about having been stood up, and invites her to come for a picnic the following day.
In the meantime, Erwin is carrying out his own day job as a taxi driver. While he is fixing the car, his depot receives a phone call from his wife, Annie (a model in the real world), who wants to know if they are going to the cinema that evening. Erwin clearly is not keen to go - he simply comments that Greta Garbo is showing until the following Tuesday. (One of the running themes of the movie is to play down the importance of the cinema in the lives of these young Berliners.) At the end of the day, Erwin returns home to find Annie moping about - she seems to spend most of her time lying on the bed in a fairly threadbare apartment. The couple start to get ready to go to the cinema, but they continually bicker with each other. The first row is over the pictures of movie stars in their bathroom - it is clear that all the actors are there for Annie's benefit, while the actresses are there for Erwin, because they punish each other by tearing up each other's photos. Another row is over whether Annie should wear the brim of her hat up or down. (Another recurrent theme of the movie is the self-centred machismo represented by Erwin and Wolfgang.) Wolfgang arrives in the middle of this argument, so Annie never gets to the cinema. Instead, Erwin and Wolfgang drink beer and plan to go to the countryside the following day.
As a result, the following morning finds the two men taking a train to Nikolassee, accompanied by Christl and her friend Brigitte (who both in the movie and in real life is a sales assistant at a record shop). Annie stays at home, sleeping away the day. Many Berliners seem to have the same idea - Nikolassee offers a beach, a lake, parkland, and a pine forest where daytrippers can spend a relaxing few hours. We see many such Berliners of all ages enjoying themselves on a Sunday at Nikolassee, including the four young people who are the focus of the film.
As the four friends have a picnic, swim in the lake, and play records on a portable gramophone, Wolfgang flirts with Brigitte, to the annoyance of Christl. At one point, after lying down with his arms round both women, Wolfgang play-chases Brigitte into the forest, where they find a secluded spot and begin to make love. (The camera trails away at this point, to reveal that there is a great deal of rusting debris nearby - presumably the remains of previous such picnics.) Afterwards, the four friends go for a boat-ride, where Erwin and Wolfgang manage to flirt with two girls who are in a rowing boat on the middle of the lake.
As they head back into Berlin, Brigitte suggests to Wolfgang that they meet again the following Sunday. He agrees, but Erwin reminds him afterwards that they had planned instead to go and watch a football match. It is not clear what they will decide to do, in fact - although it is clear that the two young men enjoy their carefree existence, without much regard for the feelings or wishes of the young women around them.
Erwin returns home to find Annie still lying around in bed, slowly waking up to realize this was the day for their excursion, when Erwin angrily shows her what time it is.
The final scene returns to shots of the streets of Berlin. The closing series of intertitles announces: "And then on Monday...it is back to work... back to the everyday... back to the daily grind... Four... million... wait for... the next Sunday. The end."
- Erwin Splettstößer as Himself (taxi driver) - The five leading actors were all amateur actors. Like his film figure, Splettstößer was also a taxi driver in real life. He liked acting and appeared later in small roles in two other films also directed by Robert Siodmak: Abschied (1930) and Voruntersuchung. In an unfortunate accident, he was run over by his own taxi in 1931 and died.
- Brigitte Borchert as Herself (record seller) - Like her film figure, Brigitte Borchert (born 1910) also worked as a Gramophone seller when she was discovered for this film. It was her only film, she later married the illustrator Wilhelm M. Busch in 1936. In 2000, Brigitte Borchert appeared in Weekend am Wannsee, a documetary film about People on Sunday. Brigitte Borchert died as a centurian in Hamburg-Blankenese in August 2011, aged 100 years.
- Wolfgang von Waltershausen as Himself (wine seller) - Wolfgang von Waltershausen (born 1900; died 1973) came from a wealthy family in Bavaria. He was a descendant of Georg Friedrich Sartorius. Waltershausen later had small roles in two other movies. During the Third Reich he worked in the mining industry, in post-war-Germany he sold books and audiocassettes. He was married two times.
- Christl Ehlers as Herself (an extra in films) - Christina "Christl" Ehlers (born 1910) was born as the daughter of an harpsichordist and an artist. left Germany in 1933 after the rise of Adolf Hitler. During the Second World War, she lived with her mother in the United States. She had a bit part in the Hollywood movie Escape (1940). She later married and had four more children, in addition to one child from a previous marriage. She worked with her husband in a family-owned aircraft company and also had her own vitamin business. Christina and her husband died in a private plane crash in New Mexico in 1960. All of her children are still living and reside in Northern California.
- Annie Schreyer as Herself (model) - There is no information about Annie Schreyer.
Four well-known actors of the Weimarer Republic appear in small roles:
Contemporary critics regarded the movie as an accurate and laconic portrayal of the Berlin they knew and saw the closing intertitles as an accurate claim that these characters represent ordinary real life Berliners. However, these closing words have also acquired an ironic poignancy today, since we are aware that it is not a carefree Sunday but the tragedy of Nazism that awaits the inhabitants of Berlin (and the film-makers themselves) in their very near future.
In the autumn of 2002, Menschen am Sonntag was presented at one of Berlin's popular Jewish Culture Days. The Berlin-based Eastern European group Trio Bravo+ was commissioned to produce a new silent movie score for the film, which proved highly successful and was subsequently released as a standalone soundtrack CD.
In 2005, the Netherlands Film Institute released an updated DVD of the film, restoring some missing scenes and commissioning a new score from Elena Kats-Chernin. This is the version used by the British Film Institute as the basis for its own DVD entitled People on Sunday, released 25 April 2005.
The Criterion Collection released their edition of Menschen am Sonntag on Blu-ray and DVD in the United States on June 28, 2011, with a score by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and the Elena Kats-Chernin soundtrack as an alternate.
- "Wettbewerb/In Competition". Moving Pictures, Berlinale Extra (Berlin): 84. 11–22 February 1998.
- Berlin film festival website
- Exiles Traveling: Exploring Displacement, Crossing Boundaries in German ...edited by Johannes Franciscus Evelein, page 209
- Trio Bravo+ website}
- BFI DVD People on Sunday
- "People on Sunday". The Criterion Collection.