MAF 2019: Ruben Brandt, Collector
By Josh Sandy
There are plenty of reasons to love film festivals but, above all else, their ability to curate a collection of brilliant-yet-totally-underrated cinematic gems and bring them to the big screen is one of the greatest. This ability was beautifully demonstrated by this year’s Manchester Animation Festival during their showing of Milorad Krstic’s Hungarian noir-crime-thriller-cum-art-history-lesson Ruben Brandt, Collector.
The film follows Dr. Ruben Brandt, an art-loving psychotherapist who specialises in the treatment of criminal masterminds, as he leads a team of patients on a series of daring heists to steal the 13 paintings that are haunting his nightmares.
The thing that becomes immediately apparent when watching the film is its truly unique and stunning animation style. The film’s characters appear to come straight out of a Pablo Picasso fever dream with their bizarrely angular faces and seemingly impossible placement of eyes and ears. Throughout the film, every single scene is engaging visually and they are consistently packed with so many artistic references it would require hundreds of viewings to fully appreciate them all.
It will come as no surprise that the film is the most rewarding for those with an appreciation of art history, but that is not to say that it is totally impenetrable for the casual viewer. In many ways, the film acts on two levels – a unique celebration of art and psychology theory, sitting above a taught action-packed heist thriller.
Despite the potential for this complex blend of themes to become a jarring mess, the film perfectly balances complex philosophical ideas, surreal nightmarish dream sequences and well-established action movie tropes with stunts defying the laws of physics to create something truly innovative and original.
Standing alongside the film’s gorgeous visuals is the film’s perfectly curated soundtrack. The mix of genres mirrors the film’s other anachronisms and features a selection of classic rock and roll hits combined with sweeping orchestral and operatic pieces.
One particularly stunning sequence features a thrilling high-octane chase through the surrealist-tinged streets of Paris accompanied superbly by The Countour’s iconic ‘Do You Love Me’.
However, despite the film’s ability to keep its themes from becoming overly pretentious, the same can unfortunately not be said for its plot. Whilst the majority of the film uses a classical heist style narrative, with a few well-placed twists and turns to a hugely engaging effect, the film’s ending simply proves one twist too far.
Objectively, this final twist isn’t a bad plot decision and has enormous potential to add to the film’s surreal aesthetic, but the groundwork for such as radical left-turn in the closing minutes just isn’t laid throughout the film. Although it is a rare misstep, at such a crucial point in the film, it ultimately leaves a lasting feeling of a plot that has become caught up in its own intelligence.
Overall, given its truly distinctive animation style and unusual blend of themes, Ruben Brandt, Collector is a true testament to the unique nature of animation and is the perfect starting point for any film fan looking to explore the world beyond mainstream big-budget studio animations.