Ruben Brandt, Collector
Directed by: Milorad Krstic
Written by: Milorad Krstic and Radmila Roczkov
Starring: Ivan Kamaras and Gabriella Hamori
Classification: 14A; 96 minutes
The art student or museum lover may feel as though the Hungarian animated film Ruben Brandt, Collector is a pop quiz on 20th-century art. Was that Marcel Duchamp’s bicycle wheel that just rolled by? Isn’t that receding arcade a bit of architecture lifted from a painting by Giorgio de Chirico? And all those three-eyed, two-nosed people are clearly a reference to Cubism. A multitude of artistic references are listed in the final credits but you don’t need to pass any test to enjoy Milorad Krstic’s wildly inventive animation. The film, which marks the 66-year-old Slovenian-born director’s feature debut, is a visual feast.
Meanwhile the script, co-written with Radmila Roczkov, is improbable. Ruben Brandt (voiced by Ivan Kamaras) is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating patients with artistic souls. (His name tips its hat to Rubens and Rembrandt.) His own dreams, however, need to do a spell on the couch: Increasingly his sleep is interrupted by nightmares in which the figures in famous paintings try to murder him. Botticelli’s Venus turns into a strangling octopus that hauls Ruben under the waves. The Infanta Margarita from the Velazquez portrait jumps out of the frame and sinks her teeth into Ruben’s arm. Van Gogh’s postman covers him in stamps and drops him out of an airplane.
Convinced that if he can possess his fears he can conquer them, he decides to steal the famous paintings, with the help of four patients who conveniently happen to be art thieves. Ruben has previously been working to heal this criminal quartet, led by the daring acrobat Mimi (Gabriella Hamori), but apparently medical ethics count for little in his fantastical world. The motivation here is all a bit illogical and the psychology suspect, but one of the four thieves can slip under doors because he’s literally two-dimensional, so one shouldn’t take Roczkov and Krstic’s plotting too seriously. At its most joyous, it produces a wild chase through the streets of Paris as the detective Kowalsky (Csaba Marton) pursues Mimi after she steals an ancient Egyptian fan from the Louvre. At its least satisfying, it wraps up with a tired explanation for all the shenanigans that is probably best ignored.
What is to be savoured here is the ceaselessly inventive animation. Taking his inspiration from Picasso’s Cubist portraits that featured profile and frontal view simultaneously, Krstic creates a series of multi-eyed characters, including a psychiatric analyst who wears a third eye over his glasses and a nightclub singer who has a whole chain of eyes cascading down her face. The main characters are only two-eyed, but Krstic’s approach to humans is usually zoomorphic – Ruben, for example, looks like a horse. Characters who resemble pigs, fish and mountain goats also fly by in a fast-paced amusement that culminates in a Tokyo museum where a daring theft is disguised as a piece of performance art.
Ruben’s story may be as oddly illogical as any of his nightmares, but the animation here is a dreamy delight.
Ruben Brandt, Collector opens March 1 in Toronto and Vancouver