Associated with 1920s German Expressionism, with its exaggerated sets and lighting techniques, F.W. Murnau brought the style with him to Hollywood for this expensive super-production.
The simple story of a husband’s betrayal of his wife with a treacherous city girl, the film moves from a fairytale-like depiction of rural life to a dynamic portrait of the bustling modern American city. Explored in elaborate tracking shots by Charles Rocher and Karl Struss’s pioneering camerawork, as when the unnamed Man and Wife first arrive by tram, the city set was one of the most costly yet produced.
The result was a commercial flop, though the achievement did not go unheralded: Sunrise was awarded a special Oscar for unique and artistic production at the first ever Academy Awards.
“Still staggering in the vast sweep of its technical creativity and the delicate honesty of its central two performances. Huge and intimate and lovely.” Chloe Walker
“Film language reached such exciting heights in the hands of Lang, Murnau and other silent expressionists, it’s almost a shame that sound came along.” Peter Debruge
“The supreme example of what was at risk of being lost when the talkies arrived. Thank God that Murnau slipped this one under the wire.” James Swanton
“It’s quite possible that cinema peaked in 1927, and considering the greatness of Sunrise there’s not even any shame in that.” Eric Hynes
“The summit of the then-new artform. Since then, in so many ways, it’s been a downhill road for American filmmaking.” Joseph McBride
“One of the finest silent films. Stunning cinematography, perfect direction, excellent acting. Still moving today.” Jean-Marc Leveratto
“How hatred and romance are intertwined, as are beauty and death.” Charlotte Garson
“Sunrise is the perfect match between the German way of framing and lighting emotions and a simple, moving, universal love story.” Carlo Chatrian
“For the sophistication, the poetry and the tears. The most beautiful film ever, as Truffaut rightly stated.” Claude Bertemes
“Murnau is an absolute genius of images and his first American picture is probably the most beautiful and moving silent film in the world, and the most moving love drama ever made.” Frédéric Maire
“One of the most beautiful films ever made. Murnau’s mise en scène is brilliant; he truly understood the essence of the cinematographic image.” Miquel Escudero Diéguez
“Murnau really was able to express everything with the cinematographic means available. He needed no sound and hardly any intertitles, yet his storytelling is crystal clear.” René Wolf
“As its subtitle says, it’s just “a tale of two humans”, but the whole world of humanity is in this film.” Peter Hourigan
“For being as sexy, slippery, gorgeous and inventive now as it was then, and for refusing to simplistically take sides between pastoral nostalgia and bewitching novelty.” Nick Davis