People on Sunday (1930) Director: Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer
The setting is Berlin, 1930. Five experimental film-makers embark on a project to capture daily life in the city. The result is People on Sunday, a short experimental observationalist film by Robert Siodmak, co-written 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 became a noted Hollywood B-movie director. The “People on Sunday” project was funded by the Siodmak brothers’s father. The plotless “Menschen am Sonntag” was shot over several Sundays in and around Berlin. All five of the main actors were amateurs, daily workers in Berlin –the effect offers a panorama of ordinary people enjoying their lazy Sunday throughout the city, from sunrise to sunset.
This film showcases the simplicities of daily life in Weimar Berlin, filled with sunlit and hopeful scenes of innocence and joy lingering beneath the shadow of the end of the Weimar Republic. With the benefit of hindsight, we can interpret an ominous tone throughout this film. All the joyful faces will soon face the rise of Hitler and the end of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, our lead filmmaker in this endeavor, Robert Siodmak, would later become a refugee of the Nazi era. After being attacked by Goebbels, he would flee to Paris where he produced a number of highly influential films and then eventually he ended up in Hollywood along with his compatriots Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann (who both later became celebrated Academy Award winners). Thankfully, the Criterion Collection revamped the significance of this film with their re-release in 2011.
“People on Sunday” is remarkably enjoyable while lifting the veil on a people soon to fall under the spell of a hideous demagogue. It represents a once in a lifetime collaboration between future successful Hollywood filmmakers: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann. This is a true delight, a feast of gripping cinematography.