How far would you go for love? Would you risk everything? Leave everything? Romantic and mysterious, Lili Horvát’s Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time unfolds slowly, tantalizing in its aura of uncertainty. Brilliant, successful and beautiful, yet very much alone at almost 40, neurosurgeon Márta Vizy (Natasa Stork) thinks she has finally found ‘the one’. They met at a neuro-oncology conference (Ah! Sapiosexuals in love!) in New Jersey, spent one magical day together and – without exchanging phone numbers or contact information – decided to meet again in one month, in Budapest, on the Liberty Bridge. Very romantic – as is the bridge itself, connecting Buda and Pest across the Danube. When Márta arrives at their intended rendezvous, her eyes are bright with anticipation, then as time passes, anxiously searching, and finally, they darken with the understanding that he will not come. Márta is not a weak, passive woman with a crush, she wants to understand what went wrong and since she knows where he works, she tracks him down. But when János (Viktor Bodó) sees her, he says she must be confusing him with someone else, he has never seen her before. How is that possible? Did they really meet at the conference? Did she make it all up? Is she delusional, mad? Confronted with his denial, Márta collapses. It’s what she does next, that makes the film so intriguing.
Having left Budapest twenty years ago to establish a successful career in the United States, Márta now decides to follow her heart. She quits her job, remaining in Budapest to work, under much worse conditions, at the hospital where János works. It’s a very extreme move. Romantic? Crazy? They’re sometimes quite similar. Is Márta experiencing some sort of breakdown? Did the romantic interlude with János at the conference really happen, or is it all the invention of a lonely, disturbed mind? Horvát sets the tone for the film with an opening quote from Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song: “(I think I made you up inside my head.)” In delicate precision, the narrative unfolds in a way that conceals as much as it reveals, maintaining the suspense. The allure of the film is in its protagonist, with Natasa Stork portraying a woman determined to arrive at knowledge and understanding, even if it means confronting her own mental illness.
An unreliable narrator always makes a story more alluring, and Stork imbues the character of Márta with an inner strength and intellect that makes her obsession and impulsive actions all the more compelling. Juxtaposing interiors and exteriors – both symbolic and physical, the camera moves between extreme close ups of Márta during her therapy sessions, the piercing blue of her gaze dazzling and lucid, the gloomy corridors and institutional gray of the hospital, and the city of Budapest, vibrant with possibility. The workings of the human brain, that great unsolved mystery, are at the heart of the film, and Horvát explores with a deft, and often playful, touch. The film is a fascinating reflection on the mind and its capacity for misdirection.
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time will be shown at the Haifa International Film Festival 2020 as part of the East of West Program. Tickets and additional information may be found on the festival website.
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Hungary 2020, 95 minutes, Hungarian, subtitles in Hebrew
Written and directed by Lili Horvát; DP: Róbert Maly; Editor: Károly Szalai; Music: Gábor Keresztes; Cast: Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó