Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer (director)
BFI Film (studio)
17 June 2019 (released)
03 July 2019
This silent ‘snap shot’ from 1929 was subtitled ‘a film without actors’ upon its initial release because the actors in the film were simply just amateurs who portrayed their daily lives, their daily jobs and what they’re up to on their Sunday off.
The b/w film, shot on various days over a few weeks, is notable for two things in particular: it portrays daily life in Berlin during the tail end of the Weimar Republic (thus shortly before Hitler became Chancellor) and it also an early work for future Hollywood writer/director Billy Wilder who was responsible for the script. PEOPLE ON SUNDAY further marks the film as the directorial debut of the Siodmak brother (Curt and Robert) before they found fame in Hollywood after having read the writing on the wall what with the looming Nazi regime. The same goes for Austria-Hungarian director Edgar G. Ulmer.
The movie opens with a scene taken place at the famous Bahnhof Zoo train station and immediately we’re drawn into the bustle of central Berlin and its people going about their daily lives. There is no specific narrative as such and much of the action is improvised though we are introduced to the five key players: taxi driver Erwin Splettstößer who had, in fact, serious ambitions of becoming a professional actor. Indeed, ‘Robert Siodmak cast him in small roles in two of his early films but Splettstößer’s budding movie career was tragically cut short when – in a cruel and ironic twist of fate – he was run over by his own taxi in 1931 and died from his injuries. Brigitte Borchert who works as a salesgirl in a Gramophone record shop – once again irony was at work because upon the film’s release quite a few directors were interested in offering blond Brigitte parts in their movies but she had no interest in a career as an actress whatsoever. Her claim to ‘fame’ (at least in her native Germany) in 2011 she had reached the ripe old age of 100 years and died in the same year as a centenarian. The film also features wine merchant Wolfgang von Walterhausen and real-life model Annie Schreyer. Finally there’s Christl Ehlers who earned her living by appearing as an Extra in various movies and – together with her Jewish mother – left for the United States in 1933 following the rise of Hitler.
The film follows these protagonists as they make plans for the weekend and soon things descend into a whirlwind of flirtations, jealousies, fun, laughter, arguments and above all, a daytrip to Wannsee (a borough of Berlin famous for its two lakes) and soon music, picnic and splashing about in the cooling water lead to more shenanigans. The film ends with scenes taken on Monday morning when everyone returns to their mundane jobs.
PEOPLE ON SUNDAY offers a fascinating glimpse into one of the world’s biggest metropolis and how it has changed over the decades and of course, WW2.
The Blu-ray release also offers some Bonus material including street scenes of Berlin from 1910 and an insightful 23-min film titled ‘Beside the Seaside’ from 1935 about the delights of British seaside resorts (complete with un-pc blackface minstrels).