Monday, February 11, 2019

Ruben Brandt, Collector

He is something like a cross between the protagonists from Hitchcock’s Spellbound and To Catch a Thief. Dr. Brandt is a world-renowned head-shrinker, who is fully capable of curing his own inner demons, but his therapy is literally criminal. With the help of his patients, he will steal what troubles his psyche. “Possess your problems to conquer them” is one of the principles of his treatment, so the good doctor will take possession of some of the world’s greatest works of art in director-screenwriter-animation designer Milorad Krstić’s sly animated caper Ruben Brandt, Collector (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mimi is cat burglar par excellence, who was hired to pilfered a rare gem from the Louvre, but she swiped an exquisite Chinese fan instead, because she found it more aesthetically pleasing. Alas, her nemesis, private detective Mike Kowalski recovers the rare piece, but Mimi slips through his fingers yet again. Of course, her mobbed up employer is unhappy with her improvisation, so she decides to lay low by seeking treatment at the Swiss clinic under the direction of celebrated art therapist Ruben Brandt.

Brandt really is a good doctor, who has been able to help his patients, like Bye-Bye Joe, a celebrity bodyguard, who is more Vin Diesel than Vin Diesel, but he has been plagued by vivid nightmares of great artistic masterpieces (Botticelli’s Venus drowned him j-horror style with her tentacle-like hair, for example). Unbeknownst to Brandt, his father, a B.F. Skinnerist mind-control researcher, tried to program into an artistic genius using subliminally enhanced cartoons. Out of appreciation and gratitude, Mimi, Bye-Bye Joe and their fellow patients, the ultra-flat bank-robber Membrano Bruno and the super-hacker Fernando will steal the paintings tormenting Brant’ subconscious.

On one level, Collector is a globe-trotting escapade that visits some of the most picturesque museums on earth, including the Guggenheim and the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio. In addition, it is crammed to the rafters with erudite visual references to fine art and great cinema. Frankly, it could take hours to unpack and catalog them all, but most viewers will be distracted by Krstić’s manically-energetic and highly cinematic chase scenes. They are grounded in reality, but he takes advantage of the animated format to push them beyond the bounds of what mortal stunt-performers should be willing to attempt.

It should also be noted Collector is definitely intended to be an animated film for mature adults. The action never gets particularly violent, but it definitely has a grown-up sensibility. There is no hanky-panky between characters either, but Mimi is definitely a slinky, seductive femme fatale and Kowalski’s assistant Marina often works remotely from the spa, in various states of undress. In fact, she ought to replace Jessica Rabbit as the pin-up favorite of animation geeks.

Honestly, Collector is such a clever and stylish film, it makes us wonder what the heck the Academy thinking overlooking it (as well as an original vision like Tito and the Birds) in favor of two ho-hum sequels. Seriously, the animated division needs to raise its game and refine their tastes.

Of course, Collector is much more than a series of cultural and artistic references. It is also jolly entertaining. This is a jaunty romp that has some ingenious shoes to drop, worthy of old Hitch himself. Krstić’s animation is also archly striking, somewhat resembling Gagnol & Felicioli’s Phantom Boy, but with cubist accents to give it a bit of surrealist panache. Highly recommended for fans of high and pop art, Ruben Brandt, Collector opens this Friday (2/15) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.