There’s a refreshing air to the tale of Ruben Brandt, Collector, which dares to be more than just a showy festival piece featuring paintings coming to life. On one level, it’s an observation of art’s crippling obsession that drives one mad with possession. On another, it’s a psychological story about how nostalgia and memory of art can deeply root our behavior and actions. And on yet another level, it’s a giddy and intense action caper with chases on foot and in cars, sometimes with helicopters.
Brandt’s method for overcoming this problem is the same one he’s been advising for his clients, figuring that procuring these paintings will lead to his cure. And since many of the paintings in question are not for sale, he employs the help of his criminal clientele, including the seductive art thief Mimi. They go about stealing the paintings in various ways, sometimes secretly in the shadows and sometimes in broad daylight, staging one heist as performance art. The caper gets messy with the quick and keen Mike hot on the trail of Mimi in a cat-and-mouse game, as well as the chaotic action that occurs when a reward is placed on the heads of Ruben and company.
Existing in a strange world of exaggerated and abstract individuals, Ruben Brandt is facing a mental crisis. During the day, he’s a psychologist for thieves, trying to help them overcome their shortcomings with a method most criminals would favor: conquer your problems by possessing them. He’s not interested in rehabilitating these men and women so they renounce their criminal ways but merely giving them the confidence to find purpose and maybe lose some weight. By night, however, Brandt has been having strange visions of famous paintings coming to life and trying to kill him. And it’s getting worse—his visions start occurring in galleries during the day, leading to others questioning whether he’s doing performance art since, well, everything in this world looks like art.
While watching Ruben Brandt, I had that familiar twinge of watching something akin to Aeon Flux, a wildly weird animated world that rarely slows down to explain itself. Characters with flatforms and exaggerated features, as well as multiple eyes and limbs, are never fully explained, adding to the dreamlike qualities of the picture. This style greatly benefits getting inside the terror of Ruben’s mind, the way we’re not quite sure when the nightmares are taking hold and what exists in his reality. He’s horrified and unsure, despite the cool head he tries to keep with patients. The variety of color and form is pushed to great lengths for scenes of heists, sexuality, violence, and exciting chases. In this sense, I was reminded greatly of The Triplets of Belleville, another surreal animated film of brilliant design for a story that ends with an action-packed climax.
Though there’s a great deal of sophistication, Ruben Brandt, Collector is ultimately a rather easy-to-follow caper with enough subtlety in its colorful spectacle to be just as intelligent as it is fantastical. There’s an oddly sexy nature in how its story is told, with its garish figures and fast-paced action that ranges from slapstick in a museum to vicious executions in dark rooms. As such, the film is yet another to place in the neat little list of examples of animation perfectly suited for an adult crowd rather than children. And given its stellar handling of nightmares and art theft, it’s one film to keep at the top.