Movie Review: Great Art inspires nightmares and crime in the animated “Ruben Brandt, Collector”

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If nothing else, animator/writer-director Milorad Krstic has done the world’s “Art Appreciation” teachers and professors a great service. Why bother writing up a final exam when “Ruben Brandt, Collector” becomes available on video?

Here it is, a history of art primer packed into a light, brisk animated caper thriller. Hundreds of paintings and painters are referenced. So teachers, grade on the curve. First five students to list fifty references get the A, second five the B and so on.

The Serbo-Hungarian artist and filmmaker designed “Ruben” to have an Art Moderne/Klimt look, as interpreted by anime and manga artists obsessed with Picasso, Chagall and Dali and rendered in CGI animation.

It’s a gorgeous film about an art therapist who discovers art can also be maddening.

Dr. Ruben Brandt uses art to cure textbook cases of mania, obsession. In take-up-an-art-form solo sessions and group therapy, he convinces his patients to channel their dysfunction into work.

But Dr. Brant (voiced by Iván Kamarás) has nightmares. It might be Andy Warhol’s pistol-packing “Double Elvis” silk screen image from Presley’s “Flaming Star” Western, challenging him to a public gunfight, or Velazquez’s “Infanta Margarita Teresa” chewing his arm off as she drags him through a rail car window while Frank Duveneck’s “Whistling Boy” whistles at him tauntingly.

And all of them — including many characters within the movie — have multiple eyes on one side of their face, multiple breasts, “people” that might have been dreamed up by Picasso and Dali.

The art is out to get him, and that’s got him seeing a shrink himself.

His new patient might offer him some peace. Mimi (Gabriella Hámori) is a svelte, backflipping, parkour-practicing cat burglar who hits museums on the orders of a mob boss. She’s a “kleptomaniac” she confesses — not to the DC detective (Csaba Márton) chasing her through Europe, but to Dr. Ruben.

She does it “because beauty shouldn’t be locked away.”

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As Brandt’s nightmares take on a pattern — the strands of hair of Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus” become tentacles to yank him into the painting, at one point — perhaps this unrepentant thief, with help from a few other patients, can “help” the good doctor — provide him some peace, if not a cure.

Flashbacks suggest his “Men don’t cry” father might be the key.

Off we go, dashing into museums across the globe, hunting down Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and Van Gogh’s “Postman Joseph Roulin” and escaping, always in the most aesthetically gorgeous vintage cars — Tatra, Mercedes 300SL a Citroen DS.

The dream psychology matches the film’s muted color palette and flat visual aesthetic. And even as interest in the story waxes and wanes — “What do we need to steal next?” or the mob and cop pursuers guessing “Where will they STRIKE next?” — the visual puns and witty homages to famous art and artists keep “Ruben Brandt, Collector” interesting.

It’s more clever than smart,  but here’s an animated film for adults (violence, nudity) that challenges and rewards the viewer who — yes — paid attention in class, and whose bucket list includes MoMa, the Louvre, the Musée D’Orsay, the Reina Sofia and Prado, Met and Musée Rodin.

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MPAA Rating: R for nude images and some violence

Cast: The voices of Gabriella Hámori, Iván Kamarás, Csaba Márton

Credits: Directed by Milorad Krstic, script by Milorad Krstic and Radmila Roczkov   A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:36

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