The world of high art often struggles to transition to the film world. Many features, including “Nocturnal Animals” and “Loving Vincent” end up falling short of the lofty expectations placed on them. Occasionally, a hit like “Mr. Turner” breaks out in a big way. Perhaps the best film of this kind is “Frida,” a study of the amazing woman who became an iconic painter and artist. “Frida” often works because it embraces its subject’s style in the film, helping it stand above your classic biopic feature. Taking the idea of embracing your love of art and running with it, both figuratively and literally, is what makes “Ruben Brandt, Collector” one of the most interesting animated films of the year. At once wildly entertaining, hopelessly artistic, and silly beyond all reason, the Milorad Krstic delivers a wonderful send-up of the Modern Art society.
“Ruben Brandt, Collector” follows a psychotherapist of the same name (Iván Kamarás), who begins to suffer extremely vivid nightmares. In his dreams, famous paintings from around the world attacked him. Ruben begins to regularly suffer from sleepless nights. His fear of the paintings turns to obsession. That’s when one of his patients Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), a known stuntwoman and secret thief, suggests that Ruben should conquer his fears. Literally. With the help of his other patients (also thieves), the group begins to steal the paintings. Meanwhile, Mimi is hunted by a roguish detective/cinephile Kowalsky (Zalán Makranczi) and the mob boss she left on the hook.
What really helps “Ruben Brandt” stand out is the film’s ability to adapt modern masterpieces into a universal visual language. Drawing on cubism, modern abstract principles, and pop art, director Kristic redevelops classic pieces of art to fit his world. Most pieces are easily recognizable, include “Nighthawks” and “Double Elvis.” Others may take a minute or two to adjust to their new stylings, with faces regularly protruding at odd angles. These adaptations are just the tip of the iceberg into a world obsessed with culture and genre mashups.
The film itself walks a tightrope between a half dozen genres of note. Several sequences recall the Jazz clubs of “La La Land,” yet paint the world as if you’re in a 1930’s Hitchcockian thriller. Hitchcock himself appears at several points in the film, and cinephiles will take joy in the easter eggs on display. Kristic masterfully shifts between visuals, allowing ten to fifteen-minute sequences without any dialogue at all. Instead, your eye is on the ever-changing landscape around our thieves and the intensely cool action shots. There are also scenes with a fair amount of nudity, but given the high art setting, this actually fits. Even these moments are often meant as allusions to other pieces. It is the non-stop references that help the film ooze flavor and style, making every second a visual cornucopia.
The narrative itself ties the world in knots, but luckily the characters all seem to be contortionists. While style forces the story into the backseat, it still creates an interesting arc at the heart of the film. There are questions about the parentage and legacy, questioning how we gain our interests and loves. However, many of the moments work as plot devices, and women do not get many moments to shine as characters. Instead, the men have to decipher their dreams and desires.
“Ruben Brandt, Collector” should easily take a spot among the Oscar five in Animated Feature, although it seems like no one has seen the film. Seek this one out as one of the most visually imaginative films of the year. A mashup of noir, heist, action, and surrealist films yields a wholly original concept from Kristic. If nothing else, Kristic deserves the keys to do whatever he wants with his next feature. His work has the ability to push the limits of animation.