Rich slacker Sebastian has little respect for others, especially not women. Riding on his good looks and charm, he easily manipulates people, like his flatmate Alex. He enjoys playing with others; sometimes casually, sometimes cruelly, changing their lives.
Sebastian's favorite sport is slumming in Vienna's seedy bars and cafés in search of quirky characters to toy with. He also likes surfing for young women over the internet, seducing them with elaborate stories of truth, half-truth and lies. Grade school teacher Pia is his latest conquest. Or maybe this wallflower who talks too much when she's nervous has actually conquered him?
Their romance is jeopardized when Pia becomes angry about Sebastian's latest act of flippant cruelty: just for fun, he and Alex picked up an unconscious drunk off the street and drove him to the Czech Republic, where they dumped him without any ID.
Pia decides to rescue this man, Kallman, a down and out poet whose drinking binges usually result in ranting and raving and aggressive attempts to sell his poems on the street. Little does he know, he's about to have a moment of sudden revelation, lost and alone in the wintry Czech wildnerness...
"You have reached your destination" the BMW GPS says while the car rolls to a halt in front of a butt-ugly building proclaiming "Znojmo". Znojmo: To a German-speaking person (without a sense of Slavic languages...), this looks mighty weird, strange, alien: One vowel only but that one twice, surrounded by a pretty curious combination of consonants - strange but also funny.
My ass!: Fun's over when you wake up looking at that Znojmo expecting to be at Vienna's Western Station where there's no Znojmo in sight, nothing even Znojmo'rish anywhere close - you're someplace then, an outsider, a stranger, an alien, the exception suddenly to everybody's rule. Only one thing to be done: You have to believe, you have to have trust in this world around you. So, Kallmann, the poet-bum on a binge back for a visit among the sober, out there but not out of it as such, starts saying, "Myslim to uprimne", parroting posters in the station hall, all honesty even if he doesn't have a clue about what these strange words actually mean -- they fell good and right and so be it, the fool knows. And he is lucky: In other cities election posters don't proclaim "I'm honest" but nonsequitures like "Less Red, More Control".
Whatever that's supposed to mean, and what kind of control anyway? As the Great Ticket Puncher knows: All control and all responsibility is with us and us alone, some have it and others had but whether you act or are acted with is up to you, alone - destiny my ass! Those who believe in this world as such are in control, at least of themselves, but few, it seems, know. Fear feeds on ignorance and disbelieve. Everybody, it seems, has these authenticity-worshipping days: This sense of loneliness, despair, uselessness, this fear of being common, of redundancy, of having their ticket punched. Sebastian, a nowaday's private gentleman, an alien in Vienna and a stranger to himself, has a hard-on for uncertainty: He fills the voids he imagines in others with his own projections, stories, stupid as they are. His is a world in which all women are cunts to be not fucked so as to make them feel how vacant they are in his eyes that seem to know plenty but certainly won't share. Sebastian is the Wizard of Nothingness in the carnival of this life.
When asked about her do for carnival come, Pia quips that she'll disguise herself as a woman disguising herself as a man disguising himself as a woman -- so much for authenticity: A jest to be lived. Pia, the primary school-teacher, simply is, and whatever neurosis' there are, is nothing she can't deal with. Pia, by herself, sways her hips slowly, alone on an empty, silent dance floor, and that's totally okay, with music and maybe someone else around it would be nicer but that's the way it is right now and it's okay like that. Sebastian is the opposite: On his own he's lost, he needs somebody to talk (on)to, even if that othern is dead asleep, like Kallmann in the Znojmo cold, where Sebastian quotes the bum's visions back onto him: "My name is not Fear. My name is Angst. I must consume what time I have left, be consumed, crumble, liquefy - careening at full speed." Let's face it: Sebastian is not fear itself - even if he would like to be just that; and maybe on some meta-level he actually is -, Sebastian is just a dough-brimming asshole with too much time on his hand. And while ass-holes tend to be full of shit and nothing else, this one is special: Sometimes, Sebastian is actually right about a few things he sees and does and thinks, and his arrogance occasionally feels more to the point than other people's pious righteousness. Which also Pia knows, rarely counts for much: It's what you do that counts. So she starts searching for Kallmann, because somebody has to do it.
Fear alone alienates, people from each other and one from oneself.The alien is what gets pushed away; what is written out of history; what doesn't fit in and refuses to fit in and is fitfully ignored for that; whatone finds if one stays instead of setting out for the world. Our place is what is to be found in all others' eyes alone. Sebastian and Pia get some notion of themselves in each other's desiring glances. Their first kiss is seen reflected in a screen of some video game: They might be at play and it all might be a case of cross-projected lust and longing, but it's very real all right.
Life, in the romantic imagination, is a system of opposites, sense is made by seeing an image as another image's reflection, variation, vacui, blind spots are alienated away by such a system of allusions, illusions, and delusions, with time and space equally irrelevant to these association games and trains of thought: Twice Kallmann does the bum rap about being and nothingness and the infinite jest of death (the word he can't - bring himself to - say in his Hail Mary, twice); twice Bambi pops up; Kallmann's Everyman-evocation rhymes metaphorically with Pia's little school-play heaven; Kallmann is brought to Znojmo in the trunk of a car and goes back to Vienna in the baggage hold of a bus; twice a wailing is heard, once when Pia lets out the music in her head into the club's silence, once when a muezzin in Jakarta calls the believers for prayer -- with Kallmann's call that he sees with his mouth resonating hauntingly across it all; tracks (the GPS a meta-track), trains, and stations lead the way through it all, starting with Kallmann in the metro and ending with Sebastian jumping his train someplace in Jakarta - where two local dudes speculate about some white guy's reasons for slumming in South-East Asia -, losing himself in the local ways, setting out in the end on a journey along some deserted-looking tracks into the alien night. Never be afraid of such analogies and variations! For you can only live without fear when you understand them as simply signs of a common humanity, of us being closer to each other when we think without ever being the same. We all die, and that's okay.
When in the end the metro stops on a bridge and Kallmann looks down while Pia in her car looks up and they don't see each other in the film's reality while exchanging shot-countershot-glances, Michael Glawogger has finally arrived, found the essence of his gallivanting through the world: It's this kind of common humanity Glawogger and his films talk about again and again but nowhere as lucidly and beautifully as in "Slumming". Driven by a notion of plenty and possibilities, balanced by a sense of the reality of it all, the world becomes Glawogger's home.
Olaf Moeller, January 2006