Thursday, October 22, 2015

Movie recommendation: People on Sunday

The artlessness of browsing: I was looking through the M s in the library and came across the silent movie People on Sunday, or Menschen am Sonntag (1930). It’s a beautiful, funny, sad (silent) story of hopes and disappointments in the before, during, and after of a Sunday outing. The movie’s makers, or at least their later accomplishments, are almost all instantly recognizable: co-directors Robert Siodmark (The Killers) and Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour), cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (Metropolis), cinematographic assistant Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), writers Kurt (later Curt) Siodmark (The Wolf Man) and Billy (here, Billie) Wilder. (The names of producer Heinrich Nebenzahl and lighting technician Moriz Seeler, a poet who died in the Holocaust, are otherwise unknown to me.)

People on Sunday is distinguished by its cast of non-actors, five young Berliners playing versions of themselves: Brigitte Borchert (record-store saleswoman), Christl Ehlers (movie extra), Erwin Splettstößer (cab driver), Annie Schreyer (model), and Wolfgang von Waltershausen (traveling wine salesman). Christl meets Wolfgang, who invites her on a Sunday outing. She brings her best friend Brigitte. He brings his pal Erwin. (Annie, Erwin’s girlfriend, sleeps away the movie in their apartment.) The four young adults swim and splash, picnic, listen to records, ride a paddle boat, walk about. Things become complicated.


[Clownish Erwin at rest. Click any image for a larger view.]


[That’s Wolfgang’s hand caressing Christl’s face.]


[That’s Wolfgang’s other hand, simultaneously caressing Brigitte. See? Complicated.]


[Back home, Annie sleeps.]

People on Sunday is an obvious influence on Italian neorealism. But I suspect that this movie also influenced Robert Bresson (who, too, worked with non-actors), and I think it must have helped inspire Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country .



The luminous forest scene (Brigitte and Wolfgang) seems like a likely precedent for Franz Biberkopf and Mieze Karsunke’s forest scene in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980).



But I would imagine that the resemblance between this fleeting image and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Hyères, France is a matter of cameramen with equally good eyes.

What makes People on Sunday deeply affecting beyond its makers’ intentions is that the movie captures a world soon to be lost to hatred and madness. (The seeds of course were already planted.) One can only wonder what became of the countless people who appear in the movie’s scenes of city life, sweeping up, washing cars, dozing on park benches, boarding buses, looking out of windows, crossing streets, having their pictures taken.

People on Sunday is available from the Criterion Collection, dazzlingly restored, with two musical scores and many extras, including a 2000 interview with Brigitte Borchert.

comments: 2

Gunther said...

Thank you for mentioning and recommending this movie! I have watched it many years ago and still remember that I was very impressed by it. – Do you know that the score has been re-recorded in 2003 by the German quartet Trio Bravo+?

Michael Leddy said...

Yes. So that makes at least three scores. Of the two Criterion-release scores, the one I prefer is by the Mont Alto Orchestra. I’ll have to look into Trio Bravo+.