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Ruben Brandt, Collector is an animated art heist film bursting with references

The comedy is clever, playful and inventive—although the car chases are never-ending

Ruben Brant: Collector, directed by Milorad Krstic Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Clever, playful and inventive, Ruben Brandt, Collector, written and directed by the Slovenia-born and Budapest-based multi-media artist Milorad Krstic, is an animated portrait of a tormented prominent psychotherapist who conspires with his patients—who happen to be art thieves—to steal paintings from 13 great museums, all to purge himself of nightmares. The plot, a contrived twist on Hitchcock that quotes the master loosely and affectionately, also makes for a light satire on the museum canon that overflows with art references.

In his 1945 film Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock hired Salvador Dalí to create a dream sequence for a character who impersonates a young doctor at a mental institution, played by Gregory Peck. Wary of modern art being over the heads of the movie audience, Hitchcock’s producer David Selznick cut all but two minutes of Dali’s section from the final film. Indulging the drama of dreams seems the whole reason for Krstic’s animated romp.

In a scene set at the Uffizi gallery in Florence, in which Ruben is drawn to Botticelli’s Venus, he is pulled into the canvas by the goddess’s golden tresses, which drag him underwater as they transform into the black scaly tentacles of the Sea Witch from Walt Disney’s The Little Mermaid. In another dream scene, Velasquez’s Infanta Margarita bites into Ruben’s arm when he leans out the window of a train. At the Musee d’Orsay, while Ruben is on a visit to see Edouard Manet’s Olympia, the cat in the painting leaps out of the canvas and slices his arms with its claws.

Ruben Brant: Collector, directed by Milorad Krstic Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In another act of borrowing, Krstic has appropriated elements of a visual vocabulary for his art crime psycho-drama. His main characters—with the exception of Mimi, a stunt double kleptomaniac turned art criminal—have equine heads that seem inspired by studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The lop-sided asymmetrical faces of Picasso’s subjects in the 1930s are seen in supporting characters throughout. In long dream sequences, strong doses of surrealism make anything plausible, like a shoot-out with Andy Warhol’s gun-slinging Double Elvis from 1963 (stolen from MoMA). Krstic isn’t quoting Hitchcock this time, but Toy Story.    

That said, the film’s endless car chases are just that, endless, even for a heist movie. They make you wonder who Krstic thinks his audience is: not just the art cognoscenti who’ll get his many inside jokes, but the children who fuel the animation market?

Those chases can be a fun ride, with Krstic setting the audience up time after time for the reimagining of masterpieces as Ruben’s patients steal them. Now that he has mocked the classics and the theories of why people are drawn to them, as well as the reverence of the museums that hold them, what new stories will the animator to tell?  

• Ruben Brant: Collector, directed by Milorad Krstic, 94min, is now in select theatres in New York and Los Angeles