‘Ruben Brandt, Collector’ Review: Stealing Inspiration From Great Art

“Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a curiosity that wants to be more than that. The conceit is rather ingenious: to use a graphically inventive style of animation to manufacture a caper involving the theft of famous paintings. There are 13 of those, including works by Velázquez, Picasso, Manet and Warhol. The picturesque world they inhabit is a distorted mirror of our own, where people routinely defy gravity and have odd physical characteristics. A third eye. An extra breast. Elongated limbs. Facial features arranged according to approximately Cubist principles.

A further oddity is that the figures in the paintings — Manet’s “Olympia” and her cat; Velázquez’s Infanta; Warhol’s “Double Elvis” — are rendered in similarly distorted fashion. This is, on the part of Milorad Krstic, the Budapest-based artist and animator who wrote and directed the film, a cheeky bit of arrogance. The old and modern masters bent the world to their visions, and Krstic, in turn, bends their visions to his own. This is charming at first, but over the course of more than 90 minutes it yields diminishing returns.

The masterpieces are tokens in a convoluted tale of psychological trauma, gumshoe intrigue and glamorous globe-trotting, spun around the title character, a psychiatrist plagued by art-historical nightmares (and voiced by Ivan Kamara). He dreams that figures in paintings come to life and attack him, and a group of his patients at a serene Alpine clinic try to cure him by stealing the works in question. They, in turn — in particular one of them, a lissome burglar named Mimi (Gabriella Hamori) — are pursued by a detective named Mike Kowalski, who collects movie memorabilia.

References to cinema and art pop up on screen almost too fast for the eye to assimilate, as Krstic whimsically scrambles genres and moods. Like many detective stories, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” moves backward and forward. Mike wants to figure out why Ruben is fixated on those paintings, while he (and other interested parties, including gangsters and spies) try to figure out where the thieves will strike next. They and the audience are led on a breezy tour of major museums, including the Prado in Madrid, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Those cities (along with Rome, Tokyo, New York and London), are rendered in zippy, precise lines. The people are lithe and sexy cartoons. The movie is fun to look at without quite being exciting to watch. This is mostly because the story never fully lives up to the ideas, and the ideas themselves are fuzzy and scattered. Scale, size and coherence matter in art as much as perspective or inspiration. At shorter length, with a less cluttered story, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” might have been a small masterpiece instead of a minor diversion.

Ruben Brandt, Collector

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Ruben Brandt, Collector
Rated R. Cartoon violence and nudity. In English and Hungarian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes.

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