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GOCRITIC! Trieste 2019

GoCritic! Review: Ruben Brandt, Collector

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- We take a close look at one of the most acclaimed animated features to come out of Eastern Europe in this century

GoCritic! Review: Ruben Brandt, Collector

Art, crime and psychology are blended together in the new Hungarian film, Ruben Brandt, Collector [+see also:
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, which has become one of the most ambitious Eastern European contributions to the world of animation in recent years. Directed and animated by Milorad Krstić, the film world-premiered at Locarno and went on to feature in a slew of festivals, including Warsaw, Sarajevo, Chicago, and Seville, with its latest outing taking place in the Art & Sound section  of the 30th Trieste Film Festival. Ruben Brandt, Collector not only pays obvious tribute to the great painters, Rembrandt and Rubens, but also to the art world as a whole. Its cultural mashup offers plenty of references to fine art, film and music, from Warhol and Radiohead to Coppola and Hitchcock.

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Famous psychotherapist, Ruben Brandt (voiced by Iván Kamarás), is travelling on a night train, with "Whistling Boy" sitting opposite him in the carriage, when "Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress" suddenly bites his hand. These characters from famous paintings, by Duveneck and Velázquez, respectively, are two of thirteen masterpiece figures who attack Ruben in his all-too-vivid nightmares. 

Femme fatale thief, Mimi (Gabriella Hámori), meanwhile, plays a cat-and-mouse game with private detective, Mike Kowalski (Zalán Makranczi), on the streets of Paris. The main characters of the story all meet when Ruben decides to steal the paintings that are torturing him, with the assistance of heist expert Mimi and some of his patients from a private clinic. Ruben, who is nicknamed “The Collector” by the media, is now Public Enemy No.1, with a big, fat reward on his head, and Kowalski, plus an assorted bunch of gangsters, begin a relentless hunt for him.

Through the film noir atmosphere Krstić evokes, and his tendency to fill every frame with countless details and references, there is no doubt over the director’s imagination and deep devotion to the work, which also ensures viewers are kept happy for the full 94 minutes of the film’s running time. If anything, the viewer sometimes wishes for a break which would allow him or her to scan every hint; a two-headed man, as flat as a piece of paper, and a three-eyed psychiatrist are just two figures picked out from a crowd teeming with surrealistic characters. Krstić then adds a pinch of sharp humor, and Ruben Brandt, Collector has all the ingredients for an ecstatic cinematic ride for wider audiences. 

With its dynamic form and fascination with cultural references, the film is somewhat reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's recent adventure/sci-fi flick, Ready Player One. Krstić, however, isn’t content to go down the same old sub-genre, heist-thriller road. Instead he opens up the film to a certain degree of psychological drama with tinges of horror, but, arguably, not sufficiently, as the results of this approach are mixed.

Krstić's art-heist narrative and the overall execution of the film should mean it has a good chance of achieving commercial success, with its easy appeal to wider audiences. But the excellently developed artistic aspects of Ruben Brandt, Collector could also win over more demanding viewers. This is a very appealing film, despite a certain lack of clarity over the genre it wants to be. But the audiences do not necessarily have to ask this question, they can simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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