One of the last German silent films was People on Sunday, a modest project from a group of young men. Our stars are young professionals in real life and only amateur actors who did not quit their day jobs. They only could film on the weekends and that’s how we end up with People on Sunday! It takes on a faux-documentary style, and it follows the lives of four individuals as they meet one another and then spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon together.
There is certainly a breezy playfulness to the film as the two men and two women spend time frolicking at the beach and reclining in the sun. They share laughs while eating and listening to records. It quality fun and there seems to be a general innocence to their behavior that while sometimes rude is all in good fun.
This is, in fact, a film of the late Weimar Republic, without the cloud of Hitler’s Nazi regime hanging over the country (not until 1933). It stands in sharp contrast to later works or documentaries because People on Sunday is seemingly free and wholly unrestrained by ideology or prejudice.
We should undoubtedly be grateful for this historical piece of New Objectivity cinema and the reasons are twofold. First, since the film essentially works as a documentary, it gives us a wonderfully clear picture of what life was like in the world of Berlin. There are continuous shots of the city streets, passing vehicles, and people making their daily rounds.
One especially memorable moment occurs when the story takes a short aside to afford time for a montage of faces. The camera slowly captures face after face providing a sample of all the individuals who walk these streets. They transcend time and space because of their humanity, their mundane quality, and they have the same lightness of our main characters.
When we look at the names behind People on Sunday, it is almost staggering to acknowledge these men who were formerly unknowns.
As directors, you have Robert and Curt Siodmak. Your main writer is the great Billy Wilder. As cinematographer, you have another great in Fred Zinnemann, and finally, production was helped by the B-picture master Edgar Ulmer. Due to the rise of the Nazis, all of these figures would end up emigrating to Hollywood and the rest was history.
In many ways, we are indebted to them, because they helped form some of the great American classics and you can already see them honing their craft. The images are visually arresting and there is even a sense of humor that we could seemingly attribute to Wilder. It would only get better from then on.
If I’m not mistaken there are several scores that have been used to accompany the film, but I did really enjoy the Czech film orchestra because it added a lot to this otherwise silent picture. Hope you enjoy this unassuming jaunt as much as I did.