People on Sunday

People on Sunday (1930) Director: Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer

★★★★☆

“Menschen am Sonntag” is a short German silent film released in 1930, lasting slightly longer than one hour. The film is largely without a plot, shot over several Sundays in and around Berlin. All five of the main actors were amateurs, daily workers in Berlin -ordinary people enjoying their lazy Sunday throughout the city. It is an experimental observationalist film by Robert Siodmak (he co-wrote the script with his brother Curt Siodmak and future Hollywood auteur Billy Wilder who worked a “few minutes” on the film before fleeing Hitler’s Germany for Hollywood). Robert Siodmak co-directed the project with Edgar G. Ulmer who later went on to become a noted Hollywood B-movie director). The “People on Sunday” project was funded by the Siodmak brothers’s father.

“Menschen am Sonntag” has historical significance for showcasing the simplicities of daily life in Berlin for Germans just prior to the rise of Hitler in the Weimar Republic. Indeed, Robert Siodmak would later become a refugee of the Nazi era. After being attacked by Goebbels, he fled to Paris where he produced a number of highly influential films and then he eventually wound up in Hollywood. Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann later became Academy Award winners. The Criterion Collection revamped the significance of this film with their re-release in 2011.

“People on Sunday” is remarkably enjoyable with extraordinarily captivating cinematography. It represents a once in a lifetime collaboration between future successful Hollywood filmmakers: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann. The film is a delight: filled with sunlit and hopeful scenes of innocence and joy lingering beneath the shadow of the end of the Weimar Republic and the birth of Nazi totalitarianism.

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