Great masterpieces of art fuel visions that twist into nightmares for the title character in Milorad Krstić’s trippy animated thriller Ruben Brandt, Collector (★★★). To rid himself of his horrifying hallucinations, prominent psychotherapist Brandt (Iván Kamarás) enlists a quartet of crooks to steal the thirteen paintings that have “tormented” him for most of his life. Or, rather, the crooks enlist themselves, led by lithe art thief, Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), who happens to be one of Brandt’s patients.
Mimi has taken to heart a philosophy espoused by Brandt: “Possess your problems to conquer them.” So, she and her cronies, also Brandt’s patients, are glad to help the doctor by attempting robberies from the finest museums on the planet.
Hungarian animator Krstić directed, conceived, and designed the visually distinctive, Freudian fantasy, and he’s ensured that Brandt’s terrors are vividly nightmarish. The doctor is attacked by Velasquez’s L’Infante Marguerite, kidnapped to Arles by Van Gogh’s Postman, and mauled by a man from Hopper’s Nighthawks. Even Botticelli’s Venus comes to life with deadly intent.
Like guest stars on The Simpsons, these famous faces of modern and classical art are rendered in the film’s layered cubist and surrealist style. The characters’ bodies and features look as if painted by Magritte, Léger, or Picasso, some with eyes or lips on the side of their head.
The quirky style extends to the art heists, highlighted in the first act by a sprightly, action-packed chase through Paris. Femme fatale Mimi escapes the scene of a crime in a cherry red Mercedes convertible, pursued by detective Mike Kowalski (Csaba Márton) in his Citroën. The car chase suddenly gives way to an extreme parkour race around the Seine, and the cat-and-mouse between Kowalski and Mimi keeps evolving as its own subplot among many — too many to maintain interest in all the criss-crossing cops and criminals.
The story occasionally loses focus, bouncing between Brandt, Mimi, Kowalski, and a nefarious gang that’s out to shut down the art-stealing mastermind known underground as “The Collector.” The effective score by Tibor Cári helps keep it all on track, though, adding jolts to Brandt’s daydreams, and propelling the gunfights and fast and furious vehicular mayhem. For good measure, Krstić even throws in twisted jazz covers of familiar pop tunes like Radiohead’s “Creep” and Britney’s “Oops!…I Did It Again,” along with a dance number inspired by Pulp Fiction, although that’s not one of the many film references that Krstić acknowledges in the end credits of this spellbinding mystery.
Ruben Brandt, Collector is rated R and presented in English without subtitles, and is now playing at Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Visit www.landmarktheaters.com.
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