‘People on Sunday’ on Max and Criterion Channel

People on Sunday (Germany, 1920) is a delightful, effervescent rarity from the late silent era with irresistible bona fides.

Not only did this low-budget 1930 German film influence a generation of filmmakers, it launched the careers of some mighty impressive talents who, as hungry young filmmakers, collaborated on this buoyant little portrait of a lazy Sunday in Weimer Berlin. The collective includes future Oscar-winning directors Billy Wilder (listed here as Billie) and Fred Zinneman, film noir master Robert Siodmak, B-movie auteur Edgar G. Ulmer, horror creator Curt (listed here as Kurt) Siodmak), and Oscar-winning cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan.

The premise is simplicity itself: five young Berliners, all young and attractive, meet up for a jaunt to the country. (Well, four of them do, anyway; a fifth ends up sleeping the day away.) Cast with non-professionals, all playing characters ensconced in the performers’ real-life jobs, and shot with minimal equipment on the streets and in the parks of Berlin and Wannsee, it follows their flirtations and fun as they swim, picnic, nap, canoodle, stroll through the woods, and listen to records on their portable Victrola. Between sequences the camera surveys the crowds of like-minded folks also enjoying their Sunday away.

Though this is the debut of co-directors Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, they show both a command of their skills and a delicacy of expression, and the light-fingered confidence and breezy elegance of the storytelling is matched by witty asides (a montage of statues is a young cinephile’s witty tribute to Eisenstein) and the gorgeous photography of Eugen Schüfftan. The mix of naturalism, visual poetry, youthful energy and frisky sexuality of a canoodling romantic triangle is really quite irresistible.

This presentation is beautifully mastered from a 1997 reconstruction and restoration. It’s the most complete version in the world (though still a few hundred feet short of its original release, according film restorer Martin Koerber) and a fine-looking presentation that captures just what a lovely, lyrical film it was upon its original release. It features a bouncy, swinging silent-era-style score compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Orchestra.

B&W with musical score, German intertitles with English subtitles

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
People on Sunday (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
People on Sunday (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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The Criterion Blu-ray and DVD special editions feature two original scores: a bouncy, swinging silent-era-style score compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Orchestra and a modern composition composed by Elena Kats-Chernin and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra.

The half-hour documentary Weekend am Wannsee is a 2000 production that chronicles the reconstruction of the film as it explores its production and legacy and includes interviews with co-star Brigitte Borchert and scenarist Kurt Siodmak, both in their nineties but full of remembrances. Also features the 1931 short film Ins Blaue hinein directed by Eugen Schüfftan and a booklet with featuring a new essay by film scholar Noah Isenberg and excerpts from writings by scriptwriter Billy Wilder and director Robert Siodmak recalling the film.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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