A Film a Week - Ruben Brandt, Collector

Ruben Brandt is an art therapist, trying to reform a band of misfits and career criminals by shifting their focus to creative work. He is also tormented by nightmares in which parts of the masterpieces of fine arts keep coming back night after night. So, enter Mimi the stuntwoman turned career burglar, on the run from law represented by globe-trotting detective Kowalski (who has a thing for movie memorabilia) and her former employers – the Mafia. After a botched job in Louvre due to her kleptomaniac and overly competitive tendencies, she will figure out what Brandt wants and organize the patients in his glamorous Adriatic villa for a series of heists.

The plot might seem like something lifted from Ocean’s series sprinkled with some random art references (even the title character’s name suggests both Rubens and Rembrandt) and attempts at obvious artsy-nerdy humour, but Ruben Brandt, Collector is so much more than that. It is an animated lucid dream, an acid trip and a visual candy with the nod to all the cool movie stuff, from Eisenstein to early Hitchcockian film-noir to Rambo set in a variety of re-imagined trademark places of the world (including museums and galleries like Orsay, Uffizzi, MOMA and others), and a breathtaking introduction lecture of an art history college course, showcasing the greatest hits from Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus to Warhol’s Double Elvis, with Titian, Velazquez, Van Gogh and Picasso in between. It is a crazy ride, not always coherent, almost impossible to memorize all the details and highlights, but it leaves a permanent impact.

This is the work of Milorad Krstić, a multi-talented artist with background in painting, sculpture, multimedia and film, born in Slovenia, but residing in Budapest for almost 30 years now. For his previous film, the animated short My Babe Left Me, he was awarded Golden Bear in Berlin in 1995. On Ruben Brandt, he served as the screenwriter, director and the creator of visual identity.

The final product is a smooth mix of (mostly) hand-drawn animation with some added computer graphics, with snappy dialogue, memorable sequences like the chase on the streets of Paris that looked like chic sixties revival and virtually no moments of idle running, sometimes necessary for the viewers to catch some breath. Part of the credit also goes to the composer Tibor Cári whose jazzy covers of pop standards are the world for themselves besides a precious addition to the overall atmosphere and spirit of the film.

The only trouble, so to speak, are the voice actors, all of them Hungarian and all trying to hard to fake an American accent, which sounds a bit unnatural. It is not that much of a problem, since Ruben Brandt, Collector does not take place in our world, but the film would look and sound better with more seasoned English native speakers.

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