One of the most beautifully ironic things about art is that it rarely finds its audience at the height of its passionate creation. Art is usually only appreciated belatedly. Long after its creator has moved on from their creation. At a time when kindred spirits in search of meaning chance upon that one piece that speaks to their soul. Art, above all, is a delicate balance between design and function. Movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector all share that singular quality. They are crafted from the depths of their respective creators’ souls, made with purpose, and laid bare for all to see.
In their own time, of course.
Movies to Watch if You Liked Ruben Brandt Collector
Ruben Brandt, Collector is a 2018 Hungarian action thriller. It follows the titular psychotherapist, himself in dire need of help. Plagued by nightmares inspired by famous works of art, he enlists the help of four of his patients to steal 13 paintings. As one of his recruits notes, the goal is to “possess your problems to conquer them.”
Consequently, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues between the authorities and the newest criminal on the block simply known as “The Collector.”
The film makes use of cubism, made famous by the painter Pablo Picasso. Not only does that make it extremely unique on its own, but also makes it stand out among animated films. And when paired with director Milorad Krstić’s unique approach to storytelling, this film easily rivals some of the trippiest films of the decade.
Here are 21 more movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector that blend unique artistic approaches with intriguing storytelling and deeper philosophical and sociopolitical insights.
Moon Man (2012)
This adorable story of a fish out of water is a rare, magical gem.
The “man in the moon” is a popular idea that a man’s face is visible on the moon. Ancient lore told of a man who was banished to the moon for a crime. And so, he circled the Earth for eternity, never being able to come home.
But in Moon Man, the man in the moon does come back down, after he finds himself bored with his mundane routine. Every night, he watches as Earth brims with joy and life. But one night, he hitches a ride on the tail of a comment, hoping to explore the world he has only experienced from afar.
Unfortunately, Earth thinks they’re under attack from aliens. Ironically enough, the only reason he is spotted is that the now-conquered Earth’s President had turned his colonizing sights on the Moon.
Soon, the man’s absence from the moon leaves children unable to sleep again. Can the man escape his pursuers and go back home before nighttime is lost forever? Only one way to find out!
Moon Man features a gorgeously timeless art style. It blends 2D animation with unique character designs. And this approach fits perfectly with Tomi Ungerer’s original story. Reminiscent of Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Moon Man is an enchanting experience. One that is sure to light the spark of childish innocence and wonder in any viewer.
The City of Lost Children (1995)
We veer from children who can’t sleep to children whose dreams are stolen by snatchers trying to cheat death.
Krank is a being reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. Abandoned by his creator, he finds himself aging prematurely due to his inability to dream. He makes full use of the scientist’s lair and his fellow creations to uncover a solution to his predicament. He soon strikes a deal with a local cult of Cyclopes: kidnap children in exchange for mechanical body parts. The children are later subjected to a brutal dream extraction machine all so Krank can keep on living.
When one such child’s father decides to rescue him, it sets off a chain of events. One that will feel like every science fiction film you loved as a child collided into one eerie, cacophonic piece of art. And the result is something that is visually glorious, even if at times difficult to follow.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Pink Floyd’s 1979 album “The Wall” is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. Although it received mixed reviews upon its release, it is now regarded as the band’s best release after “The Dark Side of the Moon” (1973).
“The Wall” explored the story of Pink, a jaded rockstar who closes himself off from society. Bassist and singer-songwriter Roger Waters’ own experiences inspired the story. When fans at the band’s shows became increasingly unruly and disrespectful, Waters found himself disillusioned. So much so, he wished to alienate himself and the band from them by creating a wall between the stage and the audience. This culminated in Waters crafting a story about a man in self-imposed isolation following traumatic experiences.
The story was later adapted into a movie starring Bob Geldof as Pink. The movie blended live-action and animation into a psychological horror musical with very little dialogue. Despite making no overt statements, it offered an intimate portrayal of mental health issues and the downsides of fame. In addition to that, it was also a commentary on social alienation in a changing world.
All-in-all, The Wall is a timeless classic. It brings to life the disillusionment and angst of a whole generation. Moreover, it highlights the struggle against both authority figures and one’s peers. As a result, it has morphed into a commentary that applies to every generation, no matter the time or place. This happens to be a common facet among several movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector.
Surrealism is often communicated by not saying anything at all. As such, there are plenty of movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector out there that say plenty while saying nothing at all.
Themroc is an absurdist comedy about a man who rejects the normal bourgeoisie life. Featuring no dialogue, the characters communicate via grunts and gibberish. Because of this, a viewing of the trailer might confuse one to no end. But it helps to understand that that was precisely the intent behind it.
Like much of surrealist art, this film is a critique as well as a political message. Specifically, Themroc is a satire of what modern society does to a man. Namely, turning him from a seemingly regular worker into an urban caveman.
Fantastic Planet (1973)
The experience of watching Fantastic Planet has been described as everything from an acid trip to the root of insomnia. And if that does not make you immediately rush out and find a copy, what will?
The blue-skinned Draags have kept the tiny humanoid Oms oppressed and illiterate. As such, they have maintained the status quo for as long as they can remember. When one Draag girl brings the gift of literacy to an Om boy, the hierarchy shifts. Soon, a new world order seems destined to rise.
Fantastic Planet is an experimental adult animated science fiction film. It brings with it trippy imagery and equally mesmerizing and disorienting sound design. In fact, parts of the film’s soundtrack have been likened to Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother Suite” (1970).
The surreal nature of the film has made it a popular choice among stoners. And this is certainly by design. The film’s publicists insisted the movie could only be truly understood if one’s mind was chemically altered.
Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles (2018)
Luis Buñuel Portolés is widely regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. A leader of the avant-garde surrealist movement in his youth, his leanings seeped into his films, making them remarkably distinct. But behind that veneer lay an untold story of friendship, betrayal, politics, and luck. And it involves the famous surrealist painter, Salvador Dali.
Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles follows Buñuel’s story right after a falling out with Dali. The fallout itself began when the two were working on the controversial film, “L’Age d’Or” (1930).
As it turns out, the two conflicted strongly in their artistry and political leanings. Buñuel had leftist leanings and a desire to overtly criticize the bourgeoisie. Dali had fascist leanings and a willingness to use anti-Catholic imagery for shock value. The latter would later claim in his autobiography that the rift stemmed from Buñuel being a communist and an atheist. Following its release, Dali branded the film anti-Catholic. This led to a massive uproar from various groups. As a result, the film was banned for nearly half a century.
From Top to Rock Bottom and Back Up Again
Dali’s words and actions would lead to Buñuel confronting him at a hotel. And he did so fully intending to shoot the painter in the knee. He didn’t, of course. Instead, Buñuel settled for throttling Dali’s girlfriend and wife of Surrealist poet Paul Éluard, Gala, at a dinner party.
Following the backlash, Buñuel struggled to find work. He shuffled between Hollywood and Spain, but couldn’t quite find a way out of his predicament. In this film, we get a glimpse into what transpired in the interim. Specifically, what Buñuel was up to between his unofficial exile from the world of cinema and the release of his surrealist mockumentary, “Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan” (1933).
Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles features some stunning animation. Some might feel it does not do justice to its surrealist, anarchist protagonists. But the non-surrealist approach brings their story to life in a way that helps one understand their eccentric, artistic minds.
Like the other movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector on this list, Buñuel In The Labyrinth Of The Turtles blends movies and art in a novel way. Unlike some of the entries on this list, though, this one features plenty of dialogue.
The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
If that tiny snapshot of Buñuel’s life has you intrigued, this surrealist dramedy is sure to tickle the folds of your brain.
The Phantom of Liberty spins a yarn of seemingly independent chance encounters. They get increasingly more outlandish and absurd as the movie unfolds. The film’s running theme is that nothing is predetermined. It posits that we create reality by simply making the choices we make. This is most apparent in the infamous dinner scene. It beautifully flips the script on what we’d consider “normal” in our society. In doing so, it challenges the audience’s preconceived notions about right versus wrong.
What makes Buñuel’s work so impactful is that, at its core, every piece he created held a mirror to society. And in the reflection are a series of cracks. Not in the mirror itself, but in our fragile social order that really is just a collection of meaningless rules that serve no real purpose.
Other than allowing for the creation of such masterpieces as The Phantom of Liberty, of course!
On the flipside of Buñuel’s intriguing life and art is the work of Dali. In particular, the surrealist painter’s collaboration with Disney is one that is sure to mesmerize and inspire you. Yet, the film’s exhausting journey toward fruition might make you wonder whether the cost of art is always worth the devastating struggle.
Dali and artist John Hench storyboarded the short film in 8 months. Then, World War II hit, Disney’s finances plummetted, and the film would remain in development hell for five decades.
The final finished product is just under 7 minutes long and took 58 years to finish.
Destino follows the story of Chronos, the personification of time and the source of the first generation of gods, and a human woman named Dahlia. The film is absolutely mesmerizing and captivating, despite being so short. And as Dahlia saunters up to the screen, drawn and animated in Dali’s classic style, set to the immaculate voice of Mexican singer Dora Luz, it’s pretty easy to see why.
But behind this stunning veneer is a heartbreaking story of two lovers separated by the labyrinth of time. And behind that is a message about the inevitable passing of time itself. In a similar fashion to several movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector, Destino blends the aching of one’s heart with imagery that communicates the depths of one’s soul.
The Witness (1969)
The Witness is a succinct satire of post-WWII communisc. Originally approved of and financed by the Hungarian communist regime, it would later find itself banned for over a decade. International interest eventually brought it back out of the dungeons. So to speak.
Political satire walks a fine line between gallows humor and propaganda. And The Witness walks this tightrope act with stunning finesse. It does so by being a film told by Hungarians, for Hungarians, in full view of the very system it critiques.
The story follows a simple dike keeper who is arrested for illegally slaughtering a pig. Yet instead of doing hard time, he finds himself in a new government position. He continues to stumble and continues to make his way up for inexplicable reasons. And while he seems oblivious to the situation, something sinister is evidently afoot.
I Lost My Body (2019)
This wonderfully enchanting movie reads like a crossover between “The Hand” (1981) and “Ratatouille” (2007). This makes it an oddly endearing surrealist horror-comedy, one worth every second you spend watching it.
I Lost My Body opens with a severed hand escaping the confines of the laboratory it was being held in. It goes on a harrowing journey across Paris, hoping to reunite with its owner, a teenaged pizza boy named Naoufel. Who, as it turns out, was once hopelessly, helplessly in love with librarian Gabrielle. A woman he has spent all of five minutes conversing with over a telecom.
Flashbacks tell the romantic tale in conjunction with the hand’s perilous journey home. And it eventually unfolds into a final arc that will knock the wind out of you. Perhaps not quite in the way you’d expect it to.
Daisies is a Czechoslovakian dramedy that turns several tropes on their head, in true surrealist fashion.
It centers on two young women, “Marie I” and “Marie II,” and their annoyance with the world. Fed up, they choose to rebel against it in a series of pranks. The premise is simple enough. Yet its execution is layered with so much symbolism and commentary, that it ranks up there as one of the best films ever made.
Daisies was originally a critique of bourgeois decadence. Since its release, it has become a critique of authoritarianism, communism, an overattachment to societal rules, and the stereotypical portrayal of women in film.
Věra Chytilová’s avant-garde approach to filmmaking proves to be the perfect vehicle for her unique brand of sociopolitical commentary. She essentially paints a picture of what it means to survive a society not built for you. By portraying the two women as nameless emotionless marionettes, she parodies how women are viewed by society. By layering in their portrayal as highly intelligent and manipulative individuals who use the patriarchy to their advantage, she showcases how much more there is to them than the stereotypes.
Liza the Fox-Fairy (2015)
Another Hungarian offering, Liza the Fox-Fairy is an award-winning black comedy about love, romance, and murder.
Liza is a lonely 30-year-old nurse living in a capitalist, fictional Hungary in the ‘70s. She has a special love for Japanese pop culture, including its music and folktales. But her love doesn’t end there. She has a Japanese friend, the ghost of a J-pop idol from the ’50s. Her ward is Marta, the widow of a Japanese ambassador. Moreover, she dreams of having her own personal meet-cute at a burger joint just like in her favorite Japanese novel.
Unfortunately for Liza, her interests and worlds are on a collision course. Her ghost friend kills her ward and all her potential lovers. Liza is soon convinced she has become a fox-fairy and is causing the death of all around her.
Even on a list of movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector, Liza the Fox-Fairy is a standout. It’s wonderfully unique and quirky, yet also understated.
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015)
Birdboy is a Spanish adult animated drama-horror coming-of-age film. It opens with a backstory of a once-thriving island now reduced to a desolate post-apocalyptic nightmare after a factory explosion. The explosion, as it turns out, did more than just ruin the island. It trapped a demon inside a young teen known as Birdboy. He desperately tries to keep the monster contained with the help of piglet Zachariah and the mouse Dinky.
Surprisingly witty despite its deeply macabre subject matter, Birdboy is a cautionary tale. Striking surrealist art is the vehicle for layered messaging. In the first act, environmental lessons take the front seat. As the movie progresses, though, it becomes clear that there is so much more to its message. The loss of innocence and the trauma of living in a world overrun by everyday horrors are equally significant themes.
Yet, even as it paints a grim picture of life as we know it, Birdboy offers hope. And it reminds its viewers that “there is light and beauty…even in the darkest of worlds.”
The Color of Pomegranates (1969)
For those in search of movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector, The Color of Pomegranates is a must-watch. If not for anything else, for its stunning use of color itself.
This Russian avant-garde film holds a special place in the hearts of Armenians. This is due to filmmaker Sergei Parajanov drawing inspiration from the poems of Sayat-Nova. Parajanov uses an impressionist approach to depicting Nova’s life, making for one of the most visually gripping experiences.
The Color of Pomegranate is one of the most influential films of all time. It has inspired the likes of directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese, actors Robert De Niro, and musicians Madonna, Lady Gaga, and R.E.M. As such, it has shaped the entertainment industry as we know it. And beyond that, it has helped immortalize Sayat-Nova, despite opposition and attempts to suppress the film in its original form.
The Art of Happiness (2013)
This animated drama follows Sergio, a former pianist and taxi driver in Naples. His daily job aside, Sergio grapples with the death of his brother who has been missing for a decade. As a result, he is often down in the dumps without hope or reprieve.
But as he works one rainy night, he finds bits and pieces of his lost sibling in each passenger that graces his back seat. All the while, he listens to the radio and tries to uncover within its ramblings the meaning of life.
The Art of Happiness is a deeply philosophical and spiritual work of art. At times dreamlike and at others heavy and desolate, it is an intriguing journey. One that sees its protagonist weave through being embittered and hopeful all at once.
Chico and Rita (2010)
“Love is a song you never forget.”
Chico and Rita is a Spanish animated film filled to the brim with music and romance. Pianist Chico and singer Rita chase their dreams through various cities in the ’40s and ’50s. But as they desperately cling to their love for one another, they learn that life doesn’t always work out the way you’d hope.
The film is as much a romance as it is an ode to cultural roots and a bygone era. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, and the soundtrack is a musical treat. All up, Chico and Rita blends the tragedy of star-crossed lovers with themes like racism and segregation in America beautifully.
Enter the Void (2009)
Experimental is the name of the game when crafting movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector. And Enter the Void checks all the boxes in that regard.
This offering is both an experimental art film and a psychological drama. It follows a dealer named Oscar who loses his life in a drug bust gone wrong. Following this, the movie’s first-person perspective takes the viewer through Oscar’s life, completely out of chronological order. The film was designed to be an experience in and of itself. As such, it has no real plot.
Oscar himself both uses and deals with psychedelics, which naturally leads to some trippy moments in the film. But the film also uses psychedelic imagery and sound. As such, Enter the Void is an audiovisual trip from start to finish. Set in the neon-lit nightclubs of Tokyo, it allows the viewer to go on Oscar’s out-of-body afterlife journey firsthand.
Beyond its visuals and despite not necessarily intending to, Enter the Void also offers poignant commentary on loss, loneliness, and life after death.
Cat City (1986)
The year is 80 AM (After Mickey Mouse). A syndicate of cats wields all power. They intend to eradicate the entire mouse population. And when all hope is lost, a savior is called on to fight for the people.
Cat City is an animated film that parodies several major film franchises including James Bond and Star Wars. Set in the city of “Pokyo,” it follows a literal and figurative cat-and-mouse chase.
This Hungarian film was released at a time when the communist regime, despite its liberal leanings, still kept the region largely isolated from the world. As such, the film’s ability to tell a politically-charged story that reflects the state of the world is rather impressive. Even more so when you factor in one of the funniest scripts ever written.
Unfortunately, the humor does not work quite as well in English and the fantastic wordplay and puns are lost in translation. Cat City is still, nonetheless, an absolute riot;
This Magnificent Cake! (2018)
This Magnificent Cake! is an anthology film set in colonial Africa. It paints a picture of what the continent and its people endured during these times. Five different short stories illustrate this colonial tale. This includes a troubled king, a Pygmy hotel worker, a failed businessman, a porter, and an army deserter.
The retelling of the horrors of colonization is hardly novel. But what sets this film apart is its ability to humanize all its characters. Ultimately, the violent social order is not an individual act. It is a system that stems from an overarching colonial web that forces out the worst in all its actors.
And This Magnificent Cake! manages to tell this tale with some of the most gorgeous stop-motion animations ever.
The King and the Mockingbird (1980)
This traditionally animated marvel brings to life Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale of the same name. Unfortunately, despite its sheen, the piece would be plagued by production issues. The most significant one being a producer releasing an unfinished cut of the film without the consent of its makers. The King and the Mockingbird would later be repossessed and released in its intended form by director Paul Grimault. The film, thus, took three decades to finally be completed.
The film is centered on the ruthless king of Takicardia, Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI. Charles is in love with a shepherdess, but her heart lies with a chimney sweep. At night, portraits of the lovers come alive while a portrait of the king hunts them down. The titular bird acts as a narrator, taking great pleasure in mocking the king at every turn.
The animated film had a profound impact on the industry. Most notably, it served as a significant source of inspiration for directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. The duo would later co-found Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki, in particular, noted Grimault’s use of vertical space as being a significant influence in his work.
The Tragedy of Man (2011)
The Tragedy of Man is a chronicle and critique of the human condition. More specifically, the animated film follows Adam, Eve, and Lucifer as they travel through history and ponder the beauty and futility of human existence.
The Tragedy of Man opens with the standard creation of the world. The temptation of Lucifer and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden follow.
Angered by God’s abandonment, Adam consequently fulfills Lucifer’s prophecy. One that saw the latter mock God for creating a race that would try to play god themselves someday. The duo then embark on a journey through history. Lucifer takes Adam to different periods to give him a glimpse of the future he envisions. Except, instead of progress toward divinity, Adam finds humanity going in circles, devolving further into chaos.
Adam’s progressive disillusionment and hopelessness are punctuated by Eve’s recurring presence in each of his lives. Eve struggles against injustice and oppression throughout the story. But each time, she is punished for it. Adam, however, has the choice to make a difference. Despite this, he learns over and over that to learn humanity is doomed to repeat history forever.
The film has 15 segments, each animated in a different style. It took 23 years to make due to the fall of communism in Hungary halting funding to the project. Despite that, this film holds up beautifully as a work of art and as a commentary on survival and suffering.
“Art is the key to the troubles of the mind.”
Ruben Brandt drops several pearls of wisdom throughout the film, but some certainly linger much longer on the brain. Admittedly, a movie that blends art and psychology is bound to have quality dialogue. Yet, this film manages to stand out, even among the sea of smooth-talking flicks out there.
A hallmark of movies like Ruben Brandt, Collector is their inspired use of art itself. On the one hand, their artistry tells a thrilling story. On the other, their art offers a medium to deliver profound commentary. Sometimes, it might be a commentary on the human condition, trauma, grief, and healing. Other times, it might be a hot take on sociopolitical or cultural issues. And still others, it is a mural of the grand saga of human existence. Whichever path they take, each film on this list is intensely radical in its own way.