Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018): Satiate Your Artistic Eye

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) is a Hungarian animation film that plays on various art pieces. The plot follows, if you haven’t guessed, Ruben Brandt in his adventures of art theft and violent nightmares. As a psychotherapist, he tries to help his patients who are all addicted to breaking the law with art therapy. 

However, Ruben hides a secret of his own where he constantly dreams of famous paintings attacking him. These nightmares eventually become hallucinations. Ironically, his patients decide to thank him by stealing said famous paintings so that he will believe that they are harmless. Thus, they embark on a wild adventure of art heist and a cat-and-mouse chase with the cops. 

Source: Sony Pictures Classics

A fiction feature debut of the 66-year-old artist Milorad Krstic, the film is definitely a mesmerising animation to savour in its art history galore. 

Art & Classical Cinema References

One of the ways this film pulls people in is its deep intertextual references to art movements and cinematic inspirations. It certainly serves a lot of easter eggs for avid fans of art. There are features of cubism, surrealism and German Neue Sachlichkeit — not to mention the cameos of famous paintings. 

Even without extensive knowledge in art, Krstic’s arrangement on portraying these famous art pieces with his own accents does enhance the visual experience itself. His own visual style leans heavily towards Picasso-like cubism which therefore allows him to play with geometric shapes. 

To note some of the appearances, the film features its own takes of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Diego Velázquez’s Infanta Margarita and Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis. World-famous galleries are also featured for the diegesis, from the Louvre to the Tate up till the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ruben in front of Botticelli’s Venus in the film
(Source: Sony Pictures Classics)
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus

The characters all come to life in the film, taking part in the narrative by being the protagonists of Ruben’s haunting nightmares. Characters such as Ruben and the four thieves appear to have strolled out of Picasso’s dreamworld.

The film is truly a tribute for the appreciation of art as each frame brims with classic art, art movements, contemporary art (ads and brands) and cinematic art. For instance, every wall is covered with posters, Soviet propaganda, movies and cheap art prints. However, some critics voice that it is a film that delivers a lot in terms of visual and style which overpowers or rather conceals the flaws in its plot. 

A Hybrid of Genres

The film combines genres like comedy, mystery and thriller. Yet, it manages to pull off those genres with a cheeky sense of humour. It’s glamorous in a sense, with the extravagant heist and an aura of elegance exuding various scenes. In fact, franchises from Mission Impossible to Ocean’s Eleven are presented along with genres from film noir to martial arts. 

A disappointing aspect is that the plot seems to be predictable. In addition, it may even be underdeveloped as there is lesser depth in the character’s growth and some side plotlines. The context of art may be lost within the fast-paced film too as action scenes between the thieves and the detectives are whirring through, pulling you into an exhilarating ride. 

Paired with a constant, urgent and energetic score by Tibor Cari and at times references to 1920s jazz and cabaret music, the film translates different emotions of each genre. This serves positively or negatively depending on the audience’s preferences. 

Conveying Art through Art

Personally, I believe that the loose plot of Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) provides an easier space for viewers to consume the art that flashes by in each scene. It’s an easy film to wind down to as it only runs for 94 minutes and has many visually-pleasing scenes that may evoke different emotions or reflections of self and life. Perhaps as an artist, Krstic consequently applies his approaches to art in filmmaking as well. Like art, the film provides a “blank” slate for any interpretations. With its presentation thin and strange, it can be anything.  

Source: Sony Pictures Classics

Art is the key to the troubles of the mind.

All in all, Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) is an animation film that expresses the beauty of art and history and succeeds in being an art piece itself. It converges multiple styles and eras from the crafting of characters to the littlest things like wall decor. 

As Ruben says, “Art is the key to the troubles of the mind.” Art is everywhere, ubiquitous and inescapable. Therefore, we hope this light film can help inspire you in seeing the art around us, or even better, provoke some thoughts and appreciation of various art forms, be it film, music or even posters.

Interested? Go watch the trailer here!

Written by Carmen Hew Jia Wen

Cover photo credits: Sony Pictures Classics

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