#569 People on Sunday
1930 // Germany // Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
Criterion Collection (LINK)
People on Sunday occupies an unique time and space in cinema history. Produced in 1929 and released one year later at the late silent film era, it marked the near-end Weimar cinema in which the epoch of expressionism was replaced with the “New Objectivity”, just before the rise of National Socialism in the 30s. Partly documentary footage, partly narrative drama, the film possesses trace of Soviet avant-garde montage and austerity of imminent neorealism and French New Wave. It defies the objective of escapist entertainment and conventional narrative drive, its casualness and lightheartedness elude categorization yet still retain an artistic urgency that would further flourish when the assemble team behind the camera emigrated to America and joined the big Hollywood.
This free-spirited film was credited to the emerging young German talents, all under thirty except cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (who would later earn the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for The Hustler) and all have gone exile upon the rise of Reich. Director Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer would indulge in film noirs (The Killer, Criss Cross) and Hollywood B movies (The Black Cat, Detour) respectively, while script writer Billy Wilder and cinematography assistance Fred Zinnemann would later achieve much higher acclaim as a director. The backstories behind the production have been contradictory from source to source, it’s almost impossible to have an unifying conclusion except the fact that People on Sunday is an amalgamation of multiple talents exerting their potients.
The film employed five amateurs to play themselves, all were non-actors beforehand. The lack of proper training however evoked a naturalistic aura encapsulating both the narrative structure and the photography, juxtaposed aptly with the mundane city life and primary recreations and entertainment captured on street. The film opens with a brief introduction to all five characters who reserved their own name for their alternative persona. A chance encounter between the wine seller Wolfgang von Waltershausen and the film extra Christl Ehlers resulted in a dating the following day (Sunday as the title gives it away already). Each bought their own friend, Wolfgang with his pal Erwin, a taxi driver, Christl with came with Brigitte, a record seller. Together they spent the lovely Sunday at a lake for swimming, picnic, boat-riding, and even love making.
Frankly, there is not much a story to tell, the sole dramatic effect only come from the quarrel between Erwin and his model girlfriend Annie near the beginning of the film, or the sexual tension when Wolfgang opted for Brigitte over Christl. The clinical storytelling, fresh at first watching but stagnant upon repeated viewing, was far from Renoir’s sublime work of A Day in the Country (1946). The story section was crosscut with series of city documentation, featuring the hectic metropolitan life (unceasing traffic and throng of pedestrians) as well as the weekend leisure entertainments at the beach, stylistically reminisced of Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929). The harmonious blending of two cinematic form is nonetheless seamless, the film was received critically well by both audiences and critics upon release. This debut feature unwittingly captured the joys and laughters (literally) soon to be engulfed by Nazism, it was the memoir of the lost faces on screen as well as the banished talents off screen that would shortly set their foot across the Pacific. And thankfully they were.