“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” isn’t the only genre-bending, visual feast vying for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. “Ruben Brandt, Collector,” from artist-director Milorad Krstic, combines the world of painting with the crime thriller in a boldly graphical way that’s mostly 2D. Only it’s R-rated and brutally violent.
“I’m a painter and everything started on this movie with the idea of making an animated film about painting,” said the 66-year-old, Slovenian-born, Hungary-based Krstic. “And to make it more interesting, I came up with the heist premise about a psychotherapist who is forced by his nightmares to rob famous museums to get the paintings he wants.”
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The movie’s an “audio-visual symphony” crammed with hundreds of art and movie references, often morphing together in Ruben’s waking life and dreamworld. It’s also a doppelganger paradise, filled with double faces, and the bespectacled protagonist’s love of dual ties. At the same time, Krstic has fun dabbling in weirdly caricatured gangster tropes and wild chases to satisfy the demands of the crime thriller.
“It’s a multi-layered story,” said Krstic, who opens with a nightmare on a train, in which Ruben gets attacked by Diego Velázquez’s Infanta Margarita as a ferocious monster.
“I tried to make the first layer a crime story for the average person to follow, and then there’s the more complicated psychological aspects. choreographed like a dance with varying rhythms and movements,” said Krstic.
But it took the director more than six years to pull off his debut feature (after getting a taste with the animated short, “My Baby Left Me”). “I required animators who specialized in anatomical work, and it took a long time to find the right ones and form a studio,” he said.
There are hundreds of characters (rigged and cutouts) with peculiar shapes and proportions in keeping with the mostly surreal style of the paintings. But the director emphasizes 13 masterworks as part of his heist plot, including Frédéric Bazille’s “Portrait of Renoir,” Vincent van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin,” and Andy Warhol’s “Elvis l and ll.”
“Andy Warhol’s ‘Elvis’ inspired me for a duel scene, and, as an homage, I multipled Elvis in the movie,” Krstic said. “And sometimes I followed the painting, and other times I followed the story that’s identified with the painting.
“And some things I did were homages to directors. For example, Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Ivan the Terrible’ with a chase in Paris and a comical homage with a huge chandelier on the wall. And there are homages to both Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ and Lynch’s ‘Wild at Heart’ with a dog and a human hand in its mouth.”
As the conductor of his “audio-visual symphony,” Krstic positioned the movie on eight legs, making it longer, shorter, as well as louder and softer. “The first leg is the story,” he said. “The second is the graphic world, the third is animation, the fourth is the music, the fifth is sound, and that has two parts: what happens around the art and the dialog. The seventh is the camera movement and the eighth is editing.
“And my task was not to be boring,” added Krstic. No risk there.