Review: RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR, Animated High-Art Action Caper
The Hungarian animated film is an action-packed mind-bender for grown-ups.
To be a truly well-rounded cinephile, one must take an interest in a vast array of subjects. One might even say, too many subjects. There’s psychology. There’s art. There’s pop culture. There’s technique, and even technology. And, don’t forget sociology – on a global level.
No mere mortal can be equally invested in all of them. Yet, every now and then, a film comes along which demands just that. The Hungarian animated mind-bender (its dialogue presented in English) Ruben Brandt, Collector is that film of this moment.
First and foremost a cat-and-mouse caper, multifaceted filmmaker Milorad Krstic (the film’s director, but also sporting more additional credits at the end than I could keep count of) wraps his brisk but not-lightweight yarn of international Fine Art thievery in the white-flour veneer of a contemporary action movie.
There are wild car chases, fight scenes, and even a familiar slow motion leap from a tall building into a helicopter. All of it is spectacular, and most if not all of it is collected from canonized titles within the action genre. But, a mere step back from that proves to be a step inward...
Where would cinema be without Sigmund Freud? While no longer the purveyor of the most cutting edge theories and practices in psychoanalysis, Freud did get that particular ball rolling in the first place, and remains the easy go-to name in such matters.
Everyone from Cronenberg to Corman has run to his theories as the backbone of their most noteworthy works. Dream-as-wish fulfillment, repressed memory, the libido and erotic attachment, getting at sources of compulsive repetition, aggression, parental issues… on and on. These issues, as packaged by Freud, long ago became accessible to the masses while maintaining their medical validity.
Here, title character Ruben Brandt (voice of Iván Kamarás), a famed psychotherapist in his own right, is on the hypothetical couch. For reasons that may or may not ever be explained to the satisfaction of viewers, he becomes fixated on obtaining the artwork that haunts his subconscious- an issue that’s begun to impact his conscience life. The madness threatens to overtake him, resulting in one heck of a case of Stendhal Syndrome.
Unfortunately, the works of fine art in question are all world famous, greatly renowned --and therefore all but unobtainable -- paintings. Therefore, he employs a small pack of professionals thieves, all patients of his, to accomplish his goal. Once he possesses the paintings, the logic goes, they can no longer possess him. But there’s still the question of why...
The plot doesn’t just revolve around fine art; fine art literally makes up this entire world. More-so than the environs around the characters, the characters themselves are Picasso-esque surrealist humanoids in appearance, if all too relatable every other way.
Several people have a third eye just above one of their regular eyes. Faces tend to be distorted in remarkable ways, yet their animated likenesses withstand the requirement of three-dimensionality- something that Picasso and his peers never had to deal with. One character, a glorified bad-guy goon, is literally a paper-thin character. There may not be much to him, but he can glide under locked doors real nice.
In fine movie logic, it takes a collector to catch a collector. Enter Mike Kowalski- Ace Private Eye, Art Theft Expert, and Personal Collector of Movie Props (Zalán Makranczi). Though similar sides of a very similar coin, Brandt’s nineteenth/early twentieth century processes and interests nevertheless manages to keep the very late-twentieth century Kowalski a half-step behind. This is thanks in large part to Brandt’s central thief, Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), a sexy, flirtatious expert cat burglar strait out of vintage 007. They swerve and flip and lunge and leap after one another on air and sea, across too many countries to list.
Meanwhile, the reward for the capture of the unknown collector thief (Brandt) increases continually. Other financially motivated parties become involved in the hunt, resulting in more action and higher stakes all around. It’s interesting, then, that as all of this bravura cinema unfolds (via truly eye-popping, marvelous wholly original animation), Ruben Brandt, Collector only strengthens as a bona fide psychological drama. And throughout, cleverly appropriated pop hits accompany the action (including a few fun covers courtesy of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox).
As the quest for old-world creative treasures is devoured within pop culture tropes, beats, and shots, we feel the subliminal push and pull between the devalued overly available “disposable” art of today (movies, pop music) versus the terminal rarity of the Great Art of the past (paintings, sculpture), the latter of which has only become increasingly disregarded as a result of its bourgeoisie enshrinements.
For all of that, there’s at least one more cinephile point of interest to be covered: Theology. As Ruben Brandt: Collector immerses us daringly in a world in which we are the art, is it any kind of stretch to equate it to a belief in a supreme power that is in fact the creator of all things?
Such deep pondering is encouraged by Ruben Brandt, the rare animated feature with the audacity to play squarely to thinking adults -- the film is rated R in the U.S. for violence, some language and perpetual Fine Art-rooted nudity -- while also taking full advantage of its medium (animation). Exhausting in its accomplished forays into both action kinetics and legitimate engagement with the Fine Arts, Krstic’s ambitiously taut film may very well leave devotees of both sides intimidated and in the dust. That’s just the kind of all-of-nothing piece that Ruben Brandt- Collector is... and it’s all the more valuable for it.
Whatever your cinephiliac predisposition of choice, Ruben Brandt assuredly has you covered. Psychology, Art, Pop Culture, Technique, Sociology, the world, or our place as imperfect creations... Head to the art house theater, and prepare to collect them all!