The feature debut of gifted Hungarian animator Milorad Krstic, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” is a wild, inventive ride through the unconscious, by way of Art History 101 and An Introduction to Film Tropes. The story of a famous psychoanalyst struggling with his Oedipal demons with the help of some hardened burglars isn’t a story at all, really, but a decidedly rickety scaffold on which Krstic can hang his images, an array of ecstatic references to the painters and directors who have inspired him.
It’s made clear that Quentin Tarantino is one of them, not just in a quote from the dance scene in “Pulp Fiction” but in Krstic’s frenetic magpie style, which pingpongs restlessly between the car chases and nail-biting stunts of classic action films to the femmes fatales and sleepy-eyed nihilism of film noir. We meet Dr. Ruben Brandt on a train (hallo, Dr. Freud!), where he is being terrorized by dark visions and imagined endangerments. Krstic then zooms over to Paris, where a sleekly glamorous cat burglar named Mimi drives her snazzy red Mercedes convertible like a cross between Steve McQueen and a brunette even more long-legged Charlize Theron.
Mimi’s path eventually crosses with Dr. Brandt’s — a hot-air balloon is involved, for some reason — and “Ruben Brandt, Collector” begins to center on a grand plot to cure his obsession with certain works of art by indulging it completely and nefariously.
Overplotted, convoluted and self-consciously weird, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” takes viewers on a whirligig tour through a carefully aestheticized dreamscape, with Krstic playfully re-creating works by Velázquez, Manet, Gauguin and Warhol, and with his own style evoking Fernando Botero, Otto Dix and — when it comes to his penchant for giving characters one or two extra eyes — Pablo Picasso.
It becomes something of a parlor game to spot every reference in a never-ending shuffle of winks, nods and homages. Then it becomes tiresome to try to follow a nonsensical plot and coequal obsessions with sex, death and art. Something this larky should be swifter and more compact; instead, “Ruben Brandt, Collector” feels like a sneakily pretentious pastiche, and not much else.
Two stars. Rated R. Contains nude images and some violence. In English and occasional French, Italian and Russian with subtitles. 96 minutes.
(Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.)