Semiotic Nightmare

This Hungarian heist film has its charms, but is ultimately a tough slog

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Ruben Brandt, Collector
Broadway Theatre

Opens Saturday 27
2.5 out of 5

I’m the first one to advocate dipping your toes in foreign cinema, particularly from countries whose films rarely make it to Canada. But the Hungarian animated feature Ruben Brandt, Collector is a bridge too far.

It’s not even a matter of subtitles — the film is totally in English. (Also, I love subtitles!) The plot, though, is a dense affair worthy of Jorge Luis Borges with dollops of surrealism that would make David Lynch proud.

Ruben Brandt works as a therapist, and is a troubled man. Every night, he must fend off famous paintings, such as Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis which features a gun-slinging Elvis, that are trying to kill him.

These chic nightmares are taking a toll on Ruben, so he recruits four of his patients (all thieves) to steal the works featured in his dreams in an attempt to regain control over his life. Thus, is born “The Collector”.

In every heist movie there is someone trying to thwart the criminals. Here, there’s a private investigator attuned with dream psychology who is sweet on one of Brandt’s accomplices. Also posing a problem are several shadowy figures more interested in burying the case than solving it.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, plenty of plot points to digest (seldom delivered in a forthright manner), and a fair amount of psycho-babble. Eventually, it all becomes too much and interest wanes. A second viewing would likely help make sense of it all, but I couldn’t be bothered to revisit the film.

Ruben Brandt, Collector’s saving grace is the animation: Kinetic to a fault, it’s on par with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in the fluidity of its action. Dreams and reality bleed into each other, and characters with more than two eyes and one nose begin to seem normal (think Picasso during his Cubist period).

While the film is overwhelming, everything has a purpose or meaning. If you have the time, and a taste for semiotics, Ruben Brandt, Collector can be a gas. Everyone else: know what you’re getting into.