A malicious young man of privilege plays a ghastly practical joke that results in a troubled alcoholic finding a kind of redemption in well-thesped, narratively ambitious drama “Slumming.” First dramatic feature in a decade from veteran documaker Michael Glawogger (“Megacities”), repping a return to Berlin competish by the Austrians after two decades, this is a provocative, finely crafted pic that becomes alarmingly disjointed in the last reels but casts enough of a spell to attract fests and arthouse distribs.
The vaguely condescending art of slumming has been buffed to a high gloss by Sebastian (August Diehl). Dead-eyed, idle rich twentysomething arranges online to meet women in dive bars in Vienna, then photographs them surreptitiously under the table and emails the photos to flatmate Alex (Michael Ostrowski) for their mutual amusement.
To spice things up, the two improvise elaborate pranks along the lines of locking unsuspecting customers in a cafe with stolen keys and having a bouquet of flowers sent to a blind club musician.
Meanwhile, wild-eyed street poet Kallmann (Paulus Manker) makes just enough money selling his tortured work to passersby — “my name is not fear, my name is angst,” goes one catchy phrase — to stay in drink.
The paths of these men, immensely angry in their own disparate ways, finally cross when Sebastian and Alex come across Kallmann passed out on a bench in front of the train station. With the increasingly reluctant Alex in tow, Sebastian drives across the Czech border and drops the inebriate in a remote burg.
Bulk of pic then crosscuts between newly-sober Kallmann’s attempts to negotiate the snowbound landscape back to Vienna and increasingly spooky Sebastian’s stalkerish wooing of restless teacher Pia (Pia Hierzegger). Revolted by news of the prank on Kallmann, Pia sets out on a Quixotic quest to find him.
Pic was co-written by Austrian helmer Barbara Albert, whose “Free Radicals” shares with Glawogger’s previous dramatic feature “Ant House” and many of his documentaries a fascination with the grim comedy of marginalized society.
Looking like a young Christopher Walken and Chrissie Hynde respectively, Diehl and Hierzegger communicate their malaise with dignity, while Ostrowski serves well as the initial voice of conscience. But it is Manker who earns hazard pay as the hapless Kallmann, finding strength to turn his life around with the help of some waterlogged garden gnomes and Czech farmers in pic’s most affecting sequences.
Tech credits are pro, led by intrepid lensing of d.p. and co-prod Martin Gschlacht, and editing of longtime Glawogger associate Christof Schertenleib, a helmer in his own right.