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February 1, 2021


written by: Lili Horvát
produced by: Dóra Csernátony, Lili Horvát and Péter Miskolczi
directed by: Lili Horvát
rating: not rated
U.S. release date: January 29, 2021 (virtual cinema & Music Box Direct)


No matter what, I kept forgetting the name of the film I was watching. That’s not reflection of the quality of writer/director Lili Horvát’s film, but considering the title, “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period”, can you blame me? The poetic title is just as curious and enigmatic as this mystery from Hungary and it comes across as one of the more unique submissions for this year’s Best International Feature category at the Oscars. Reminiscent of amnesiac love stories or psychological dramas of the noir variety, “Preparations” is admirable for its moody (and at times sultry) tone and alluring lead performance, even if the end scene gives us a possible answer we could’ve been fine without.

After spending her residency for the past twenty years in New Jersey, neurosurgeon Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) has returned to Bucharest. Single and childless, Márta has not returned to her homeland to reunite with family or for a career opportunity. You could say she returned for love, but she only recently met Hungarian doctor, János Drexler (Viktor Bodó) at a conference in the States. Yet when their tryst ended two months ago, it was her belief that they agreed to rendezvous on the Liberty Bridge that crosses the River Danube on a certain date. She makes her way to the bridge and waits and waits. He never shows.



She explains the reason for her return in what initially seems like voiceover, but soon we realize this is Márta discussing her current life changes with a therapist. We will see these sessions interweaved throughout the film, as director Horvát shoots her up close and at different angles with the help of cinematographer Róbert Maly and editor Károly Szalai, having viewers examine Márta as she reflects on her own decisions and desires.

When Márta eventually tracks down János outside a hospital where she has taken a job on the neurosurgery team, he doesn’t recognize her and tells her she has mistaken him for someone else. She is stunned.

Has she imagined what they had and what was agreed upon? Has she conjured him from he fantasies altogether? She mentions to her therapist the possibility of a mental lapse on her part or a possible personality shift. She is understandably concerned, but her analytical curiosity is prepared to get to the bottom of it all, even if it’s just so she doesn’t feel like she’s going crazy.



Settling into an average-looking apartment, Márta invests her time between diving into her new position at the local hospital and learning more about who János (compared to who she thought he was). He also works at the hospital, often contributing to the surgical team, but has lately devoting most of his time to writing about neurological studies and philosophies. She may come across as a stalker to him, but there’s something about intrigues him about Márta. There’s also something about her that annoys Márta’s predominately male colleagues on the surgical team, what with the way in which she happens to contradict their diagnosis and prognosis of a patient and suggest a different course of navigating brain pathologies. That fact that she’s often right is what really does them in.

One particular patient she takes on is a man who has trouble remembering and identifying certain things. Does his condition strike a chord, resembling her own dilemma with János? The patient has a son named Alex (Benett Vilmányi), a med student who develops an infatuation with Márta and soon begins aggressively pursuing her. Just as she maintains a watchful eye on János, so now is Alex tracking her down, giving her flowers after she performs a successful surgical procedure on his father’s brain. She is more interested in János and possibly even more interested in why she is so obsessed with him. She searches through his past online, learning about where and how he was raised as a child. Maybe finding out about his past and reading his latest book will bring János close to her on her own terms.



That surgery room scene is rife with queasy and curious moments as Márta is doubted by her peers and stops the procedure at a specific point that other surgeons would likely have continued. Her exacting intuitiveness is what draw János out and soon that turns into sexual attraction…or maybe that was always there. Another great scene which finds the two characters coming closer together is when Márta and János find themselves on opposite ends of a street, noticing each other and walking in the same direction. Is she imagining this as well? No, but maybe.

“Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” becomes a fascinating puzzle for viewers to try and piece together, often winding up searching for the missing pieces that culminate in a larger image that the audience is straining to imagine. It’s an absorbing viewing experience that Horvát incorporates both interior and exterior Bucharest locations as a vital part in adding to the film’s moody mise-en-scène. A room in her apartment may seem to alienate Márta or the outdoors can tend to lose her altogether. Maybe this is how she feels internally. So much of where Márta is heightens what she feels and Stock portrays her with a elegantly demanding presence with a palpable mystery and sensuality. Stock resembles a combination of Lili Taylor or Linda Fiorentino in 90s indie films, both for her impenetrable gaze and her smoldering passion.

While it feels like Horvát’s closure tries to directly answer the primary mystery of the film, it is filmed in such a way where a viewer could potentially arrive at their own conclusion just as well. Regardless, at no point does it take away from a truly fascinating and absorbing viewing experience that is far from predictable and that right there is refreshing.


RATING: ***1/2



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