Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): An animation film about therapeutic heist

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Hungarian animation feature film “Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a visual joy to behold. Freely and joyfully wielding its wacky, distinctive style across the screen, the film constantly dazzles us with numerous fantastic sights apparently inspired by many different artworks from the 19-20th century, and it is certainly one of more impressive animation films I watched during this year.

At the beginning, we see what has been troubling its psychiatrist hero, Dr. Ruben Brandt (voiced by Iván Kamarás), for many years. Due to some unknown reason, he has constantly suffered a number of different nightmares respectively associated with certain famous artworks such as Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, and he still does not know how to handle this psychological malady of his even though it looks like the origin of his malady is involved with the mysterious research of his diseased father, who seemed to be as shady as the father of the troubled hero of “Peeping Tom” (1960).

Anyway, he has been a pretty good doctor who has helped his patients a lot at a comfortable institute managed by him. For his recent four patients who all happen to be professional criminals, he developed an appropriate individual art therapy for each of them, and they all are certainly very grateful to him while feeling a lot better than before. Discerning that their good doctor must need to face and then overcome the sources of his recurring nightmares, they decide to help him via gathering every famous artwork associated with his recurring nightmares, and they soon embark on their ambitious heist project along with Brandt, who has no qualms about being an accomplice to this good-willed crime because, well, he just needs to see those famous artworks together for a while.

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As Brandt and his gangs steal those famous artworks one by one, they naturally draw lots of public attention while he is nicknamed as ‘the Collector’, and, not so surprisingly, there are a number of people eager to catch them. In case of a smart young detective, he becomes more determined to catch them after his accident encounter with one of them, and it does not take much time for him to discern the real purpose of his opponent. In case of a powerful Italian criminal boss, he sees a big opportunity as the enormous amount of bounty is put on the famous artworks stolen by Brandt and his gangs, and he has a bunch of guys ready to be at his service.

While things get a little more serious for its main characters during its second half, the film keeps hopping from one stylish moment to another. While the story is clearly set in the 21th century, the figures and backgrounds in the film are imbued with the styles and textures reminiscent of the artworks of the 20th century Cubism artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and it is also amusing to see how several prominent artworks appearing in the film are mixed with this distinctive modern animation style. I liked a wild sequence which is an irreverent cross between Boticelli’s aforementioned painting and a certain Disney animation film, and I also enjoyed the sequence featuring Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”, which was incidentally one of many memorable artworks I saw at the Art Institute of Chicago during one afternoon of 2010 April.

In addition, the film frequently throws a number of movie references to delight serious moviegoers like me. During one scene unfolded in the detective’s residence, we see a humorous nod to several various films via a rather morbid collection, and I must say that the film is probably the only movie where “Knife in the Water” (1962) and “First Blood” (1982) are referenced together. In addition, there are also a few scenes unfolded at a bar full of noirish touches, and I was particularly amused by those small ice pieces resembling a certain great filmmaker.

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I must point out that the film stumbles a bit at times due to its rather thin narrative, but everything in the film is still held mostly well together under the skillful direction by director/co-writer Milorad Krstic, and we accordingly come to overlook its few shortcomings. Although the characters in the film are more or less than broad archetypes, they are depicted with style and personality at least, and I enjoyed a sort of triangle amidst Brandt, the detective, and one crucial female character in the story.

According to IMDB, Krstic made only one short animation film in 1995 before making “Ruben Brandt, Collector”, but his considerable talent is evident from its every frame. Besides steadily maintaining the wry and cheerful sense of humor throughout the film, he deftly handles several dynamic action sequences in the film, and its climactic part will not disappoint you at all with a busy action sequence featuring many different modern artworks including Andy Worhol’s “Double Elvis”. In case of the following finale, I must say that I was initially baffled for a while, but it made sense to me nonetheless as I reflected more on the rest of the film, and that accordingly made me want to watch the film again for appreciating its small subtle touches more.

Overall, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a terrific piece of work to be admired and enjoyed for its style and mood, and it definitely has more creativity and imaginations than many of those Hollywood digital animation feature films out there. Although it was rated R when it was released in US a few months ago, I think young audiences can also appreciate what it intends to do, and they will probably be more interested in art after watching it.

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