New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Art bursts from every frame in ‘Ruben Brandt, Collector’

By Andrea Thompson

You have to give Milorad Kristic, the director and co-writer of the animated film “Ruben Brandt, Collector,” some credit. He has a very specific vision in mind for his feature length debut, and seems unashamed of the fact that it will only appeal to a very narrow, very elite audience.

The beginning is unsettling enough with a terrifying, baffling dream chock-full of references to works of art. It turns out to be the nightmare of Ruben Brandt, a psychotherapist who uses art to help his patients overcome their issues. Once he awakens, the film quickly informs us that it’s not through weirding us out, taking us on a bizarre chase that involves a beautiful thief named Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), who turns out to be a kleptomaniac acrobat, and the handsome rebellious cop Kowalsky (Zalán Makranczi) with a mysterious past.

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Because it isn’t only in Ruben Brandt’s dreams that reference art in every frame. Many of its characters either resemble or are works of modern art themselves. Every moment contains some new reference, even if it’s only purpose is to ask viewers if they’re cool enough, or smart enough to catch it. That’s not to say there aren’t some that are instantly recognizable, such as a jazz singer belting out a sultry cover of the Britney Spears song “Oops!…I Did It Again.”

In the midst of all this, Brandt’s criminally inclined patients (who eventually include Mimi) discover his growing unrest. So they decide to steal the famous works of art that are the source of Brandt’s nightmares in the hopes that possessing them will remove their power over him. Or as Brandt puts it, “Possess your problems to conquer them.” Once they commit to their course of action, they become a kind of lovable gang of misfits who travel the world to various locations to commit their heists. That’s not to say this is a heist movie, as “Ruben Brandt, Collector” saves its stylistic, manic energy for chase scenes, both in Mimi and Kowalsky’s opening pursuit, and the car chase where the gang must evade gangsters armed with semis and helicopters.

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

It’s breathtaking, but don’t expect nuance in terms of really any character on-screen. This movie is all about style, and the substance does somewhat suffer for it. Behind the incredible visuals, there’s actually quite a bit we’ve seen before. Mimi is the very sexy thief who eventually finds herself falling for Kowalsky, while the other members of the heist gang have mostly familiar roles of muscle and tech guy. The moments of humor mostly ring true, except for the cases where “Collector” tries to poke fun at the world of fine art it’s so deeply enmeshed in.

The resolution is also as strange as the rest of the movie. There is a sense of peace without resolution, as a few of the various characters get a sense of where their happy endings lie without the film really following through on it. Then there’s how off-putting its world can be. Films following the lives of the impoverished often have a sense of how easy it can be for any of us to slip through the cracks. But films like this one are deeply insular, coldly barring many from entry if they fail to possess a very specific sense of criteria that few of us will ever possess. There’s a tremendous amount of skill here, but how enjoyable it is depends at least partly on how willing you are to suspend your sense of artistic democracy, shall we say. After all, it’s hard to get behind one man depriving the public of so much art just to work out his own issues. There’s a good bet that Milorad Kristic will get you to for at least some of the movie, which is a tribute to his skills in itself.

Grade: B+

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