Ruben Brandt, Collector: A 66-year-old directs his first feature, and it's an animated hot mess of references

By Karen Gordon

Rating: B-minus

As you’d imagine, if you don’t make your first feature film until you’re 66, you probably have a lot to say.  

So, for better or for worse, it’s no surprise Slovenian-born writer/director Milorad Krstic has jammed a lot into his Hungarian feature debut Ruben Brandt, Collector. The animated movie is film noir, a heist movie, an action film, and a relentless homage to the art, artists and filmmakers who have influenced him. 

As such it's a mash up of visual and movie styles. Even the lead character’s name is a mash up, of Rubens and Rembrandt.  

A psychologist is dream-haunted by great works of art, and decides to steal them in Ruben Brandt, Collector

A psychologist is dream-haunted by great works of art, and decides to steal them in Ruben Brandt, Collector

Ruben Brandt (voiced by Iván Kamarás) is a psychologist whose patients include a group of four international art thieves. Among them: the skillful Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), who can execute hairpin turns in a sports car, get herself out of precarious situations with professional acrobat skills, and is a master criminal who can re strategize on the spot. 

Brandt is plagued with nightmares in which pieces of some of the greatest art works in history come alive to attack him and try to kill him. These bad dreams are so present to him that he figures the best thing to do is to steal the originals.  

I’m still wrestling with the logic of this.  But, no matter, apparently posters won’t do for this dude.  

So Brandt ’s patients become his team, and he begins a steady assault on the great art in some of the most significant cultural galleries in the world - the Hermitage, the Uffizi, the Louvre and MOMA, among them. In each caper, he cuts the great works out of their frames, and collects the paintings that have been menacing him in the dream world. 

Dubbed “The Collector," Brandt becomes the world’s most wanted criminal, attracting the attention of both law enforcement and gangsters (mostly American ones who tawk like characters from film noir). That includes the insurance companies who hire private detective Mike Kowalski (Zalán Makranczi) to crack the case and recover the stolen masterpieces.

The look of the movie is highly stylized. Some characters have flattened faces and multiple eyes on one side of their face, making them look like characters from paintings by Picasso, among others.  As well the film references filmmakers like Bunuel, Kubrick, the Lumieres and Hitchcock (who, true to his legendary trademark of cameos, is present in the form of ice cubes that a character uses in his drinks). But it’s also inspired by more recent action and spy movies. 

In other words, there’s a lot going on. 

Ruben Brandt, Collector is ambitious and clever, on paper. But whether you enjoy this or not will be directly proportionate to what you like about movies. Because on a visual level, Krstic does pull off something that is very complicated. 

At the same time, the story itself is not really that interesting. It’s basically an animated heist movie. And since it’s an homage, the scenes of thefts and chases are all familiar. 

Add to that an odd assortment of songs, like, for instance, a torch version of Britney Spears “Oops!….I Did It Again” that are jarringly strange and distracting choices against these visuals. 

In fact, the frame is so jammed with images and references that I found the story itself hard to follow and actually zoned out a number of times.  And in spite of Krstic’s clever ambitions, it doesn’t add up to much of any depth. 

Ruben Brandt, Collector. Written and directed by Milorad Krstic. Starring Iván Kamarás, Gabriella Hámori and
Zalán Makranczi. Now showing in Toronto and Vancouver. Opens March 15 in Montreal with other cities to follow.