Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

 

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So much quality followed by so much disappointment.

 
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Natasa Stork

 

Lila Horvát's second feature – her first to be released here – is a great calling card because the way in which she directs it is exceptionally impressive. In contrast to that, however, the story told in Preparations To Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is a letdown, a fact that doesn't let Horvát off the hook since she wrote the screenplay herself. The situation set up in the film is certainly intriguing, but the story is one that requires a strong resolution and that is exactly what is lacking here.

 

The central figure is a 40-year-old neurosurgeon from Budapest - Márta played by Natasa Stork - who had left Hungary to develop a career in America. Nevertheless, we meet her as she flies back to Budapest after twenty years away and we soon discover that her purpose is to keep an appointment in the city with a fellow neurosurgeon named János Drexler (Viktor Bodó). She had encountered him for the first time in New Jersey and their meeting there had had such an emotional impact that a rendezvous on the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge two months later had been arranged - or had it? That question comes to dominate the film since it opens with a written quote about love from Sylvia Plath ("I think I made you up in my head") and then, when Márta tracks down Drexler after he has failed to keep the appointment, he declares that they have never met before.

 

This opening sets the tone for a tale seen through Márta's eyes but one that invites the viewer to question her reliability and even her state of mind. Horvát obtains a very strong performance from Stork (this is her first leading role but you would never guess it) and uses close-up shots of Márta that are ideally chosen to keep us guessing. We could easily be seeing her fantasies and even scenes that show her talking to a therapist minimise his presence and feature variously angled shots of Márta that imply a possible absence of authenticity (we may be looking at her but could be inside her head).  What we do know for sure is that she is obsessed enough to remain in Budapest where she uses her professional standing to get a post in a hospital where she will be working alongside János.

 

The film makes good use of editing and of a number of mirror shots both of which add to the tone and the director handles the mysteries of the piece with absolute mastery blending that element with powerful sequences rooted firmly in reality (this applies particularly to a scene of surgery when Márta is in charge). One or two touches remind one of the work of the great Polish director Kieślowski and as the story proceeds one is all ready to acclaim this as undoubted quality work. But that is before the last quarter. It can't take away the considerable pleasure in what has come before but one or two unlikely moments precede an explanation of what has been going on that feels totally inadequate. This is less a plot with holes in it than one constructed on what is itself a hole and it's quite as irritating as those tales that build up to a suspenseful climax and then reveal that the whole setup has been nothing but a dream. Yet if ultimately it makes one question the talent of Lila Horvát as a writer, there is still no doubt but that the film reveals fully the great potential that she possesses as a director.

 

Original title: Felkészülés meghatározatlan ideig tartó egyuttlêtre.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó, Benett Vilmányi, Zsolt Nagy, Péter Tóth, Andor Lukáts, Attila Mokos, Linda Moshier, Júlia Ladányi, Ernö Sebo.

 

Dir Lili Horvát, Pro Dóra Csernátony, Lili Horvát and Péter Miskolczi, Screenplay Lili Horvát, Ph Róbert Maly, Pro Des Sandra Sztevanovity, Ed Károly Szalai, Music Gábor Keresztes, Costumes Juli Szlávik.

 

Poste Restante-Curzon.
95 mins. Hungary. 2020. Rel: 19 March 2021. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. No Cert.