“Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a curiosity that wants to be more than that. The conceit is rather ingenious: to use a graphically inventive style of animation to manufacture a caper involving the theft of famous paintings. There are 13 of those, including works by Velázquez, Picasso, Manet and Warhol. The picturesque world they inhabit is a distorted mirror of our own, where people routinely defy gravity and have odd physical characteristics. A third eye. An extra breast. Elongated limbs. Facial features arranged according to approximately Cubist principles.
A further oddity is that the figures in the paintings — Manet’s “Olympia” and her cat; Velázquez’s Infanta; Warhol’s “Double Elvis” — are rendered in similarly distorted fashion. This is, on the part of Milorad Krstic, the Budapest-based artist and animator who wrote and directed the film, a cheeky bit of arrogance. The old and modern masters bent the world to their visions, and Krstic, in turn, bends their visions to his.
The masterpieces are tokens in a convoluted tale of psychological trauma, gumshoe intrigue and glamorous globe-trotting, spun around the title character, a psychiatrist plagued by art-historical nightmares. He dreams that figures in paintings come to life and attack him, and a group of his patients at a serene Alpine clinic try to cure him by stealing the works in question. They, in turn — in particular one of them, a burglar named Mimi — are pursued by a detective named Mike Kowalski, who collects movie memorabilia.
References to cinema and art pop up on screen almost too fast for the eye to assimilate, as Krstic whimsically scrambles genres and moods. Like many detective stories, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” moves backward and forward. Mike wants to figure out why Ruben is fixated on those paintings, while he (and other interested parties, including gangsters and spies) try to figure out where the thieves will strike next. They and the audience are led on a breezy tour of major museums, including the Prado in Madrid, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Art Institute of Chicago.
“RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR”