Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time: A Review

Natasa Stork, in Lili Horvát’s Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Careful what you wish for; you may or may not get it. This is more or less the premise of the rather improbably titled Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, Hungary’s entry to Best International Feature Film for the 93rd Academy Awards and Lili Horvát’s second feature film. Horvát’s story centers on Marta (Natasa Stork), a neurosurgeon returning to her home country for a visit. At the start of the film, she is seen in abstract, apparently naked from the waist up, seemingly relaxing after what may seem a night of passion, and later on, discussing her return with a therapist (Péter Tóth). Such disjointed scenes indicate that we may be witnessing something that has happened already, especially when Marta herself states that, “I wanted something so bad I forgot I dreamed up the entire thing.”

As Marta’s story unfolds, we learn that some time ago she and a colleague, Dr. János Drexler (Viktor Bodo) met at a symposium in New Jersey. Both seemed to have fallen hard for each other and made a pact to meet at a certain location in Budapest. When Marta abruptly leaves her life in the USA — which on the surface seems already out of character for her — she actually shows up at the meeting location. Alone. Soon after, she desperately tracks Drexler down to the hospital where he works. To her dismay, he claims to have never met her. Undone, she faints dead away in the middle of the street.

However, Marta, instead of returning back to the US, decides to stay. We don’t exactly know why — certainly this could have been a fluke, which as embarrassing as it is, would grant her the chance to pick herself up and move on. Marta rents an apartment near to the hospital where Drexler works and even lands a job there. If all this seems a bit too creepy and “fatal attraction-like”, it is, and it’s not. Horvát takes the story elsewhere, although not too far from Drexler. Marta initiates a tentative affair with a much younger man (Benett Vilmányi), which manages to bring a spark of interest in Drexler.

Preparations is a bit ambiguous in what it decides to reveal and conceal about Marta, which is just how I like my cinema. Perhaps all this did happen or was a figment of Marta’s own mental state — which would be ironic, being that she is a neurosurgeon. However, a final minute turn of the screw muddles up whatever aspirations Horvát was attempting to portray, and this leaves the movie a bit flat. Even so, Horvát has crafted a layered character study of a woman who perhaps should know better than to follow her folly, and who may or may not be herself re-creating the same scenario with an unsuspecting bystander who also falls for her.

Preparations is still playing in virtual platforms and if you are in New York, Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the Film Forum.

Grade: B

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