‘Ruben Brandt, Collector’ Director Talks About All the High Art Shout-Outs He Crammed In

Oscar Wrap magazine: Animated film is loaded with references to Velazquez, Botticelli, Warhol, and…Tarantino?

This article about “Ruben Brandt, Collector” first appeared in the issue of TheWrap Magazine’s Oscar Nominations Preview issue.

It all started with Mimi. Milorad Krstic, a Yugoslavian-born artist who’d made a couple of short films and now lives in Budapest, was sketching one day in 2010 when he came up with a portrait of the woman who would become the inspiration for his first feature film, “Ruben Brandt, Collector.”

“I knew her name was Mimi as soon as I made the sketch,” he said. “And I knew she was an acrobat and a thief and a femme fatale and had a face like a horse but beautiful, and a neck like a giraffe.”

He pictured her at the center of a film about art, and then his imagination was off to the races. “I knew I had to pack it with something more interesting, and the best thing is crime,” said Krstic, who speaks in bursts of energy that jump from one subject to another. “Maybe you could make a love story about art, but it’s better to do crime. And if it’s crime, that means that my main character, Ruben, will be a serial robber who is stealing the most famous paintings to get money.

“But no! It’s much more interesting if we use some psychological thing: Ruben is forced to steal because he has nightmares. The creatures from famous paintings are haunting him in his nightmares, and only when he steals them and possesses the paintings is he free.

“But these creatures that are haunting him are not zombies, they are not monsters or creatures from Hieronymus Bosch or Goya. I wanted the opposite. I wanted Botticelli’s Venus, with her beautiful hair, and then this beautiful hair takes Ruben Brandt and pulls him into the water and transforms into an octopus.”

He crammed every frame of “Ruben Brandt, Collector” with references to paintings, from Botticelli to Velázquez to Picasso to Kandinsky to Andy Warhol, whose iconic painting of a gun-toting Elvis Presley engages in a final shoot-out with Ruben. But he also threw in references to cinema as well.

“I’m a great fan of the movies of the 20th century, so this is an homage to my favorite auteurs,” he said. “It starts from the very beginning, [Eadweard] Muybridge’s horse that you saw in the zoetrope, the Lumière brothers’ train, up to directors like Hitchcock and Tarantino.”The result is what he calls “an audiovisual symphony” that slips in and out of a dream state and is filled with more references and allusions than you can ever grasp in one viewing.

But Krstic thinks it’s fine if you don’t catch it all, as long as you stay interested in his story and aren’t bored.”I didn’t want to teach people or to say to the younger generation, ‘See, this is art,'” he said. “C’mon, art is not so serious. Let’s play games. Let’s have some nightmare stories, some action, a femme fatale, two brothers, a doppelgänger and so many subliminal formations that after you finish the movie you say, ‘Wow, let’s have a six-hour drink of coffee and talk about this.'”

To read more of the Oscars Nominations Preview issue, click here. 

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