Ruben Brandt, Collector (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

There’s a story in Milorad Krstic’s Ruben Brandt, Collector, but it’s not the point. Instead, the point of this beautiful, imaginative animated film is the images themselves and how they are combined with the soundtrack, so you could be forgiven if you stopped trying to extract a narrative from Ruben Brandt and instead surrendered yourself to immersion in its fascinating succession of images and sound. And, if you are so inclined, to bask in the many references and send-ups to clichés of both films noir and action films which abound in Ruben Brandt.

Still, most Americans like their films to have a coherent story, and there is a narrative underlying all the artwork, although it certainly takes its time to make itself known. To give you a head start on making sense of it all, if you are determined to do so, here’s a little summary of the plot.  Our hero, Ruben Brandt (voiced by Iván Kamarás), is beset by frightening nightmares. He’s a psychotherapist, and due to a childhood trauma (explained near the end) his nightmares are very artistic indeed. He seeks relief by stealing the relevant paintings from the museums in which they are housed, with the assistance of a criminal gang made up of his patients, including Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), Bye-Bye Joe (Matt Devere), Fernando (Christian Niels Buckholdt) and Membrano Bruno (Henry Grant).

Such bold thefts attract the attention of both detective Mike Kowalski (Csaba “Kor” Márton), who quickly figures out that since the works being stolen could not possibly be sold, the thief must be a collector, and the gangster Vincenzo (Butch Engle). It all comes to a head as Ruben, in his absurdly spacious, absurdly gray modernist home, contemplates his stolen treasures (or perhaps it’s Botticelli’s Venus, van Gogh’s Postman Joseph Roulin, Velázquez’s Infanta Margarita Teresa, Warhol’s dual Elvises, and their companions who are contemplating him) while a whiskey glass with an Alfred Hitchcock-shaped ice cube inches dangerously toward the edge of the table. The sounds and motion of a train invade the room, which transforms into a scene reminiscent of a key scene early in the film. This leads to a scene recalling the film’s opening, and a conclusion as neat as those provided by William Powell in one of the Thin Man films.

Ruben Brandt, Collector, is a fable that wears its constructed nature on its sleeve. To start at the beginning, the hero’s name is a combination of two of the greatest Western artists: Rubens and Rembrandt. In a naturalistic story, that would be way too on the nose, but in this film, it’s perfect. Krstic’s character designs use the common film trick of making the central characters look more like the presumed audience (why do you suppose Disney’s Aladdin has light skin and a cute little button nose?) while the secondary characters vary from that template. In the case of Ruben Brandt, much of the supporting cast seems to have been designed by Picasso during his Cubist period, with many sporting additional eyes, noses, and even faces. It’s a film that works at two levels: you can enjoy it as a heist story that is really a highly distilled compilation of every heist story ever told, or as a madcap dash through the worlds of twentieth century art and movies. Or better, enjoy both at the same time. Tibor Cári’s music, supplemented by a well-chosen set of pop tunes and classical selections, is the perfect complement to the images on screen. | Sarah Boslaugh


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