Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"People on Sunday"...Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer's film of romance before the "Great War"

Before the Nazi regime, there was time for lazy Sundays and romance. This is a remarkable film made in 1930 by Robert Siodmak & Edgar G. Ulmer.

People on Sunday [Wikipedia]

A review...

The film opens at Bahnhof Zoo train station one Saturday morning. Its opening scenes show the bustling traffic of central Berlin. The action of the movie centres on five central characters, and takes place over a single weekend. At the start of the movie, a handsome young man, Wolfgang [a wine dealer in real life] sees a pretty girl [Christl - a film extra] who seems to be waiting in the street for someone who has not arrived. He takes her for an ice cream, teases her about having been stood up, and invites her to come for a picnic the following day. In the meantime, Erwin is carrying out his own day job as a taxi driver. While he is fixing the car, his depot receives a phone call from his wife, Annie [a model in the real world], who wants to know if they are going to the cinema that evening. Erwin clearly is not keen to go - he simply comments that Greta Garbo is showing until the following Tuesday. [One of the running themes of the movie is to play down the importance of the cinema in the lives of these young Berliners.] At the end of the day, Erwin returns home to find Annie moping about - she seems to spend most of her time lying on the bed in a fairly threadbare apartment. The couple start to get ready to go to the cinema, but they continually bicker with each other. The first row is over the pictures of movie stars in their bathroom - it is clear that all the actors are there for Annie's benefit, while the actresses are there for Erwin, because they punish each other by tearing up each other's photos. Another row is over whether Annie should wear the brim of her hat up or down. [Another recurrent theme of the movie is the self-centred machismo represented by Erwin and Wolfgang.] Wolfgang arrives in the middle of this argument, so Annie never gets to the cinema. Instead, Erwin and Wolfgang drink beer and plan to go to the countryside the following day. As a result, the following morning finds the two men taking a train to Nikolassee, accompanied by Christl and her friend Brigitte [who both in the movie and in real life is a sales assistant at a record shop]. Many Berliners seem to have the same idea - Nikolassee offers a beach, a lake, parkland, and a pine forest where daytrippers can spend a relaxing few hours. We see many such Berliners of all ages enjoying themselves on a Sunday at Nikolassee, including the four young people who are the focus of the film. As the four friends have a picnic, swim in the lake, and play records on a portable gramophone, Wolfgang flirts with Brigitte, to the annoyance of Christl. At one point, after lying down with his arms round both women, Wolfgang play-chases Brigitte into the forest, where they find a secluded spot and begin to make love. [The camera trails away at this point, to reveal that there is a great deal of rusting debris nearby - presumably the remains of previous such picnics.] Afterwards, the four friends go for a boat-ride, where Erwin and Wolfgang manage to flirt with two girls who are in a rowing boat on the middle of the lake. As they head back into Berlin, Brigitte suggests to Wolfgang that they meet again the following Sunday. He agrees, but Erwin reminds him afterwards that they had planned instead to go and watch a football match. It is not clear what they will decide to do, in fact - although it is clear that the two young men enjoy their carefree existence, without much regard for the feelings or wishes of the young women around them. The final scene returns to shots of the streets of Berlin. The closing series of intertitles announces: "And then on Monday...it is back to work... back to the every day... back to the daily grind... Four... million... wait for... the next Sunday. The end." Contemporary critics regarded the movie as an accurate and laconic portrayal of the Berlin they knew and saw the closing intertitles as an accurate claim that these characters represent ordinary real life Berliners. However, these closing words have also acquired an ironic poignancy today, since we are aware that it is not a carefree Sunday but the tragedy of Nazism that awaits the inhabitants of Berlin (and the film-makers themselves) in their very near future.

People on Sunday

[Menschen am Sonntag]


Robert Siodmak


Edgar G. Ulmer


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