Budapest-based filmmaker Milorad Krstic’s Ruben Brandt, Collector is a whimsical (and at times intoxicating) cocktail of surreal eye-candy animation and Thomas Crown-like art-world capers that goes down with fizzy ease, even if in the end it leaves you thirsty for a little more. It’s a triumph of style over substance. But what style!
Reminiscent of both Eastern European poster art and the daffy, daredevil animation that once lured Gen X insomniacs to MTV’s Liquid Television, the film revolves around a haunted psychotherapist named Ruben Brandt who deals with his past childhood trauma by hooking up with an eccentric ring of cubist-looking art thieves under his care to steal 13 famous paintings from the world’s most famous museums. Doctor, heal thyself, I guess. Even if it involves larceny. These paintings, by everyone from Botticelli to Hopper, come to life in Brandt’s nightmares, taunting him and fueling his criminal obsession. On his tail are a gumshoe named Mike Kowalski and a bumbling gang of bent-nose mafia types.
The noirish plot doesn’t add up to much — certainly not as much as you’d like. But Krstic’s playfully hypnotic, dream-logic images and the film’s jukebox soundtrack of Weimar, torch-song versions of pop hits like “Oops, I Did It Again” cast a funhouse-mirror spell. Warhol’s Double Elvis comes to life as a menacing gunslinger. Manet’s Olympia and her cat morph into clawing wraiths. Even Brandt’s own elongated, equine face looks like something out of a Picasso canvas smeared in sweaty madness.
By the 60-minute mark, though, all of Krstic’s idiosyncratic novelty begins to test your patience. The dizzying barrage of references to great masterworks is like an Art History 101 survey class put through an on-the-fritz Cuisinart, but the hardboiled plot at its core feels a bit too soft-boiled. B-
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