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|Index||17 reviews in total|
Extraordinary and very simple silent film, put together by some of the most
remarkable talents of Twentieth Century Cinema - just read those credits!
Within a few years most of these people were in Hollywood, and Hitler had
destroyed both the wonderful film industry they had helped build and the
joyous Berlin that this film depicts.
The film tells the story of four strangers, two men and two women, enjoying a lazy Sunday by a lake in Berlin. Nothing much seems to happen, but there is a lot going on, as the four interact. There is innocence, the potential for love, the danger of sex, the force of jealousy and the pain of longing. And through it all is the joy of living!
Magnificently shot - largely in extreme close-up - the film allows us a glimpse of Berlin between the wars and it is sad to watch it with the knowledge of what was soon to be. It would have been impossible to make this film with dialogue - the words would have destroyed the nuance and the emotion. It reveals the power of silent cinema.
If the print you see is without a soundtrack, as mine was, then may I recommend playing the Essential Marlene Dietrich during the film. I did this and the combination was unforgettable.
Some of the people commenting on this movies mention the fact that it
was made only three years before Hitler came to power. While this is
true, it is a historical misunderstanding to think that in 1929, when
the film was conceived and shot, Hitler was inevitably looming at the
political horizon in Germany. In fact, in the Weimar republic of the
late 20s there was good reason to believe, that the worst was over for
Germany after the chaotic post-WWI-period. The economy had somewhat
stabilized, the political circumstances were still chaotic, but I guess
people had grown accustomed to the fact that the government changed
every so often. Germany was not a democracy in the truest sense of the
word, but there was a thriving lower-middle class, and that is what the
people in the film are meant to represent. There was good reason to
believe, that these people would be typical of Germany at this time. To
think that the film makers were delusional about the true state of the
German state is a judgement that comes out of knowing what happened
Thats what makes this film even more special in my thinking. It shows that there could have been potentially another Germany, and that fascism was not the inevitable consequence of the social condition in the early 30s, German national character or what so ever. In fact, I think thats why this master piece is not as well-known as it deserves to be. It does not fit the bill of 1920s Mabuse-style Germany, where Caligari was an early warning of the Nosferatu was the blue-print of a coming dictator etc, all this Kracauer stuff.
Having said that, I would like to point out two additional things about this film, that make it unique. First of all, with its on-location shot, its amateur actors and its next-to-nothing ,yet social realist story, it is a rare fore-runner of the post-war cinema of Italy etc, that has not acknowledged. (Then again, Rosselini et al never saw this film, but then again, where is the "neo" in "neo-realism" coming from.) It also seems to me that this might very likely be the first "indie" movie. "Indie" is of course a very vague term, and what is called "Independent cinema" differs greatly depending on where the critic is coming from. But I personally know of no other movie, that actually made it into the movie houses, that was produced by a handful of non-pros without the support of a studio. Of course, there are the surrealist films etc, but this was a reasonably successful film, not some art experiment. This is a very daring thesis, I know, but so far nobody was able to prove me wrong....
If you enjoy classic silent cinema then you won't want to miss this
treat. At times scenes are reminiscent of King Vidor's The Crowd, made
just the year before (most especially in those moments set indoors,
during which one of the couples gently bicker or the scene during which
the principals first meet up for their group date); while at others the
open air, carefree mood is suggestive of Renoir's masterpiece Partie de
Campagne, made a decade later. But People on Sunday is a distinct work
in its own right, an evocative film made by some stellar talent: the
Siodmak brothers, Edgar Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zimmerman - all of
whom would go on to varying degrees of success in the States after
fleeing the Nazis. Their film is thus both a record of a time lost, a
beautifully shot piece showing a Berlin that was soon to vanish for
ever, as well as demonstrating the collaborative talents of some major
figures in their early years. There is no hint of the dark years to
come seen here, or the debilitating effects of run away inflation which
marked the end of the Weimar Republic and led to the inexorable rise of
extreme politics. People on Sunday is above such explicit social
comment, unless it is political by the mere fact of focusing on
ordinary people. It simply tells the tale of a group (played by non
professional actors we are informed, but it hard to tell such is the
quality of the performances) enjoying themselves while out on one sunny
weekend day, picnicking, boating, kissing, promising more to each other
and so on, interspersed with more general shots of the German people
similarly at play. The skill and pleasure for the viewer today is in
the way this is done, completely without ostentation, shot marvelously,
everything still feeling fresh, spontaneous and genuine , and with a
real feeling for place. Ironically, for this viewer at least, so much
of the film seems so natural and fluid that one is more aware that is
an illusion; such unforced art as this takes a great deal of time,
patience and skill on the part of the participants and creators.
If you want to see more of German cinema from this period, other than more familiar classics, then this is a real treat, being both less known and marvelously restored. The BFI DVD version has been created from several sources and is the longest version available. It also features a splendid Weill-like score, which fits the milieu like a glove and which begs issuing separately as it stands up well as a listen on its own.
One of the surprising things about this film is the very acute, naturalistic and fundamentally humorous performances from an amateur cast, lacking all the usual strange, exaggerated mannerisms of silent cinema. The other impressive aspect of the film is the beauty of the photography, always playful and probing: the scene where an old man responds to the pompous nationalistic statues in the park is brilliant and affecting, if rather ambiguous. The modern score that was provided in the version I saw was effective and fitting: to be recommended. I agree that it all seems rather unreal, given that it takes place in 1929- yet it strikes me as not so much realistic, as naturalistic: perhaps striving to depict normality in difficult times. A very good and fundamentally humane film, lacking any real plot or suspense, but full of really interesting moments.
Marvellous late German silent that anticipates the Italian neo-realists, although I note some claim that this is not realistic at all and may even be showing struggling Berlin through rose tinted glasses. I'm not sure; those fantastic city sequences seem real enough and perhaps the regularly intoned opinion that Hitler was lurking in the shadows of a dispirited people, is itself a little fanciful. In any event this is a great little film filled with fantastic shots, moving street shots of and from moving trams, poetic close-ups of the young folk and a great sense of landscape at the lakeside. As usual with me and silent movies, I seem to get captions I don't need because the action is so obvious and whole sequences of back and forth dialogue left untitled. But just to watch the imagery is good enough and the little trysts, arguments, upsets and loving looks need no titles at all.
On a Sunday, four young befriended people make an excursion to the lake
Wannsee in Berlin to spend their free time in the sun with boat trips,
bathing and flirting.
This low budget production demands to remain at the surface of everyday life and to show certain scenes, coincidences and trivialities of it. It is mostly interested in the details and shows the other side of the hectic, restless Berlin - the peace of a summerly Sunday. Here, the people are removed from the daily rush, and it is discernible how the makers agree with their protagonists. They celebrate the self-confidence of the young generation - which is not yet overshadowed by the big crisis at the beginning of the 1930s - and demonstrate the physical joy of life, the carefreeness and playfulness. The other side of this urban way of life is, which apparently only banks on superficialness and the momentary, promiscuity and the wounds coming from this, the harshness and the cold of changing feelings. It's cynically depicted in one long tracking shot over tree-tops (indicating symbolically sexual intercourse) that ends at a pile of thoughtlessly ditched trash.
This silent semi-documentary boasts quite a remarkable roster of young
talent behind the camera: Billy Wilder, writing his first screenplay;
Curt and Robert Siodmak at the helm, aided by contributions from Edgar
G. Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann all of them still in their twenties, all
at the beginning of notable careers. The most interesting aspect in
front of the camera is the shots of everyday life in Berlin immediately
before Adolf Hitler's meteoric rise to power. Many of the people you
see going about their ordinary, everyday lives including possibly the
young leads will have participated in the war into which Hitler would
plunge their country in nine short years or been consigned to
concentration camps from which they'd never emerge.
The plot is virtually non-existent: a couple of young men take a couple of young girls to the park for a little frolicking in the lake (and something a little more intense for one couple). The characters are curiously remote, making it difficult for the audience to get to know or like them. They are no heroes or villains as such although there is an air of callousness about the men so perhaps in a way, this apparent decision to keep at the audience at arm's length can be seen as one of the film's strengths a reflection of people the way they are (the leads were all non-actors, plucked from obscurity for their brief moment of film stardom before returning back to lives of anonymity). This sense of emotional detachment persists even when the film reaches its most sensuous moments, possibly because Wilder et al fail to decide whether they are telling us a story about people as a group or people as individuals and thus devote inadequate time and attention to both.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was lucky enough to see a beautifully restored print of this film shown at this year's Sydney Film Festival, with Ensemble Offspring performing a score by Elena Kats-Chernin. The previous comment on IMDb already explains the main charms of this film. It's a small and lovely film, but it's also easy to feel a little sad while watching it. It'd be nice to think that these Berliners went on year after year having simple sundays like the one portrayed in the film, but that wasn't to be. It's quite easy to feel for these people. As the actors were amateurs, and the plot so simple and unintrusive, it does end up feeling quite close to real life. It's not hard to picture them having a life that extends beyond the end of the film. I particularly liked the scene of an arguing couple, which ends up with them taking their fury out on postcards of each other's favourite movie stars (I noticed Greta Garbo and possibly Harold Llyod amongst them). I also enjoyed the scenes by the water, which are particularly sweet and simple, the scene involving people having their photos taken, and the girl who just wants to stay in bed. This mightn't be one of the great silent classics, but it's an enjoyable experience and very interesting historically. We're very lucky not to have lost it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It all started in a Berliner café where a bunch of young wannabe
filmmakers were regularly meeting to chat about how movies were looking
like and how they should look. It was 1929 and their feeling was that
German expressionism had already given all that it could give. The
young guys were thinking at something new, to move the cinematic art
on. The idea came to make a new kind of a movie: an unpretentious story
about youngsters like them, filmed on the streets of Berlin within
everyday life; a story embedded in reality, a fiction embedded in a
documentary. As money were missing, they decided to make the movie with
amateurs: a taxi driver, a wine seller, a musical records seller, an
unemployed model, an extra in (other) movies, all of them playing as
It was their first film: the young wannabee movie makers were Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer, and Fred Zinemmann. All of them would leave Germany after 1933 to become big names at Hollywood. Together with them was a veteran, Rochus Gliese (the only one who was uncredited). The cameraman, Eugen Schüfftan, was also at his first movie. In a few years he would be the cinematographer for Le Quai des Brumes.
It was an indie movie long before the term would be defined. It has the freshness and the craziness indie movies have. Is it a story embedded in a documentary or a documentary embedded in a story? You can take it either way, because the two dimensions of this movie dissolve in each other and convey the same total empathy for simple people (the term would be now low middle class, or white collars; so it goes, we keep on inventing periphrases). The details in the images call in mind Vertov and other Soviet masters, only here in Menschen am Sonntag politics is totally left aside. It is a movie that loves reality and celebrates it as it is. In a couple of years this carefree joy will disappear for ever. What happened with the people from Menschen am Sonntag in the thirties, and then during the war? The same question should be for the people from Man with a Camera. We know the answer, for both.
I am certain that if I had seen this movie in the United States in 1929, when the movie was first released, I would have moved to Berlin. I would have packed my bags, said good bye to my relatives and acquaintances and hopped the first ship heading to Germany. This movie not only showcases Berlin, but showcases a cast that is equally charming ... and talented. This movie is proof that acting is an art, and with proper direction just about anyone who wants to can become an actor. And that's the way it should be because acting is about being, and being has to do with feeling, and if you have the feeling, then the acting comes naturally ... if you want to do it. The story is simple ... five people spending time together in Berlin. This movie makes me feel like going back to Berlin now.
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