“Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” – Get ready [MOVIE REVIEW]


Natasa Stork as Márta in “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time.” Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.

by Neely Swanson

“Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time,” directed and written by Lili Horvát, is an adventure into the tricks our brains sometimes play, or is it? Not ironically, this story about the way our minds can sometimes mislead us centers on two neurosurgeons.

Márta, a star neurosurgeon who trained and spent her career in the United States, is blindsided by her attraction to a Hungarian doctor she meets at a conference. János, too, is a neurosurgeon, and like her, is Hungarian. But his practice is in Budapest, a city she hasn’t lived in for over twenty years. Their connection is so complete that they decide to meet on an agreed upon date at 5:00 p.m. at the Liberty Bridge on the Pest side of the Danube. She, perhaps for the first time, throws caution to the wind and flies to meet her lover. Lover may be too strong a word as their connection at this point seems to be strictly mental, but it is no less powerful. She is fully committed and has given up her practice in New Jersey.

But all is not as envisioned. At the agreed upon time, anticipation at its zenith, she waits; and waits; and waits. János is a no-show. How could he forget? He was as invested as she was when they connected. Securing a position at the hospital where he works, Márta then sets off to find him. But when she does, he stares blankly and claims he has never seen her before.

Here is where the film departs from the “Affair to Remember” scenario where two lovers agree to meet at a specified time in one year. She doesn’t turn up, having had a near fatal accident just prior to arrival. Or, on the lighter note, neither is this “Random Harvest” where the husband goes on a short business trip and loses his memory and his wife must patiently woo him back. But János hasn’t had an accident; he hasn’t lost his memory.

Márta, so assured in her professional career, so impervious to the petty jealousies of her new colleagues, becomes immersed in self-doubt. She begins regular visits to a therapist. In some ways, she’s hoping for a diagnosis of mental illness that would explain her vivid remembrances of the romantic, life-changing encounter with János. The more she tracks him, the more confused she becomes. She sees him everywhere; or is she imagining it.

Horvát takes us on a ride with Márta as her self-doubt explodes into hallucinations. What is real? What effect do her emotions have on her brain? Did she experience this encounter or imagine it while in a state of searching for more meaning to her life? She craves answers but her therapist offers none. Everywhere she goes, she sees János, or does she? She cannot avoid him, nor does she want to. He is a neurosurgeon and even assists her on a particularly difficult surgery where she reveals an expertise lacking in her colleagues.

Natasa Stork as Márta and Viktor Bodó as János in “Preparations to Be Together for an Indefinite Period of Time.” Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.

He’s everywhere and nowhere for her. She gave up so much to be with him and it may have been something she dreamed. This is a question she must continually ask herself. Was she searching for a passion that was missing in her ordered life or was it a true, once in a lifetime love?

Horvát spools out this story slowly, all the more to involve you in what may or may not be the unraveling of a personality. The focus is almost always on Márta’s face in extreme closeup. She is beautiful and a contradiction in presence and distraction. Almost everything is seen from her standpoint and she becomes a vortex of suppressed emotion.

The Sylvia Plath poem that opens the film will resonate throughout:

“I should have loved a thunderbird instead, At least when Spring comes they roar back again. I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead (I think I made you up in my head).”

Róbert Maly, the cinematographer, using a dark palette and extreme closeup on Márta, establishes a visual instability that sets much of the tone. Horvát, both as director and writer, plays with the viewers belief structure on what is real and what isn’t. “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” is only her second feature film, but her assurance with story and direction should gain her the attention she deserves.

Natasa Stork as Márta and Viktor Bodó as János are essentially unknown as actors outside of Hungary, although Bodó has a thriving career as a director in the theater. They are mesmerizing.

In Hungarian with subtitles.

Now playing in virtual theater and at the South Bay Film Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by: Neely Swanson

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