RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR – Review
Last Sunday night during that big award show, between the lack of a host and THAT musical duet, you may have detected a slight tremor or rumbling emanating from “Tinseltown”. That’s because one of the winners may have begun a “sea change” (though an “A change” may be more accurate). we’re talking about the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film going to SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, the first full-length US produced entry in the two decades of the category that was really aimed at an older audience, teens and young adults rather than the toddlers and pre-teens. Aside from some brief flirtations in the ’70s and early ’80s (Ralph Bakshi’s FRITZ THE CAT to his take on THE LORD OF THE RINGS), Hollywood aimed animation at that “all ages” demographic. That’s not the rule overseas, really. Foreign filmmakers have utilized the animation medium to tell all manner of mature stories. Over the years the Orient has produced hours of such “mature-themed” films (and TV shows and home videos). This new release actually comes from a place many, many miles east: Hungary. With a storyline steeped in the art history of Europe, a new talented company of craftspeople looks to the past and future with RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR.
It begins with an idyllic train journey for Brandt (voice of Ivan Kamaras) through the rolling hills of Central Europe. His club car companions are more than a little odd. Then a screeching figure appears at the car’s window. The shift to horror gives way to darkness before Brandt bolts upright, having endured another in a string of “night terrors”. Several countries away, a sultry ‘cat burglar’ named only Mimi (Gabriella Hamori) is escaping the Louvre after “smashing and grabbing” Cleopatra’s hand-fan. Her escape is nearly thwarted by a handsome young freelance insurance investigator (really a fancy P.I. from D.C.) Mike Kowalsky (Zalan Makranczi). Their flirtatious game of “cat and mouse” wrecks havoc on the streets and citizens of Paris, until she tosses the fan and eludes her pursuer (and most of the Surete). Cut to a lush country estate where we meet Brandt in his professional capacity, a celebrated psychotherapist catering to a unique clientele: master criminals. His therapy group is soon joined by Mimi who has compulsion issues (seems she was “hired” to snag a massive diamond, but spotted the fan and couldn’t resist, much to her employers’ anger). When Brandt awakes from another nightmare his patients want to help. He believes that a glance at a famous work of art is a “trigger”. The solution? The group decides that they must steal, er, “collect” these pieces in order to stop these sleepless nights. Thus begins a global “museum caper”. Soon Mike K is on their trails, but so are countless criminals trying to collect a multi-million dollar bounty on the crew. Can Brandt’s burglary brigade triumph? And what is his connection to the mysterious Mike?
As with the aforementioned SPIDER-VERSE, this work truly looks like no other previous animated feature thanks to the superb work from its creator Milorad Krstic. Aside from the confident direction, he co-wrote the screenplay with Radmila Roczkov, co-produced, and was one of the editing and camera teams (talk about having your fingerprints all over “it”). The first thing to notice, as with most animated films, is the visual look. the backgrounds convey endless horizons in the rural locale, while the cities have that hard-edged angular look of man-made concrete caverns. Then there’s the character design that comes from the abstract art movements of the last century. Some supporting players sport three, often four eyes. Others have all their features “bunched up” on the right sight of the face ala’ Picasso. Brandt’s nose takes up most of his face, like a massive palm leaf ending at a point with two bubble nostrils. Mimi is a tribute to early cinema heroines with a Louise Brooks jet-black bob and two feline curled eyes resting just off her seed-shaped face. During her chase with Mike, they dash through several cafes and apartments, zipping past countless figures of intriguing shapes and costumes. Everyone moves with a flowing grace, closer to pencil than the computer (which was probably used for the streamlined vehicles: cars, boats, and that titanic train). Of the main criminal gang, the most whimsical may be the man who is proud to be a “two dimensional” who seeks RB’s help with an editing disorder (he’s not getting thick, but rather he’s too wide to slip under the doors).
As also mentioned earlier, the witty script offers us a wild overview of art history, with many famous pieces reinterpreted through Krstic’s warped lens. The nightmares spring from many different sources from Manet’s “The Olympia” to Andy Warhol’s “Elvis I and II”, with enough looks at other works to fill several galleries. Or frames of film, which figure into a subplot involving subliminal imagery. Speaking of cinema, the story also includes several clever nods to movie genres, other than Mimi’s “look”. The walls of Mike K’s apartment are adorned with weapons, all labeled with their respective film appearances. There’s the knife from FIRST BLOOD, right above a straight razor from THE UNTOUCHABLES. And as he relaxes Mike enjoys a beverage cooled by ice in the shape of Hitchcock’s famous silhouette. The heist sequences are suspenseful and funny (one guy poses as a famous statue), as are the chases with luxury cars defying gravity as others cling to curved mountain roads. An animated film for adults (mostly a touch of nudity and a dash of blood) that’s a fun romp through the story of art and cinema? Yes, RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR is a dazzling dream-like delight for all adventurous film fans.
4.5 Out of 5
RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR opens everywhere and screens exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre