What would you do if the love of your life claimed you were a stranger? Would you, or could you even fathom the idea that the supposed love between you and them is nonexistent, that your brain manipulated the truth in some underlying fashion? Are you lying to yourself, fostering your preferred reality? Or is the other person lying? In the warped, moody, and uniquely graceful psychological mystery that is writer/ director Lili Horvát’s Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, the urges behind unreciprocated love and romantic desire are slyly explored.
Marta (Natasa Stork) is an intelligent neurosurgeon who finds herself in this exact situation when returning to Budapest after spending decades in the United States. Marta knows for a fact that János (Viktor Bodó), whom she met while at a New Jersey medical conference, agreed to meet up in Hungary for another tryst. When Marta travels back, she is expecting to find János, but he never shows. As expected, she tracks him down, and to her surprise, he claims not to know who she is. As Marta successfully works as a neurosurgeon in Budapest, she is forced to evaluate the stability of her romantic obsession and the reliability of her mind.
Alex (Benett Vilmanyi) is a young med student who eventually comes into the picture and takes a liking to Marta. However, she still has her sights on János, even as she admits to herself and her therapist that her mind may have fabricated the relationship. If that truly is the case, Marta remains intrigued by that possibility because of her career and latent human complexities that have yet to surface.
“…Marta tracks him down, and to her surprise, he claims not to know who she is…”
Natasa Stork is gripping and poised in her purposefully subdued performance as Marta, a self-willed, albeit understandably cautious, doctor who yearns to understand her mind for all of its capability and perfidy. But beyond mere curiosity, it is feasible that Marta would rather be diagnosed with a disorder than be rejected by a lover, as broached by her therapist. She is a compelling protagonist who regards either possibility but is more comfortable with the idea that her mind made the relationship up entirely — and that alone develops newfound introspection into the characteristically calm Marta, who may be mistaking her vulnerabilities for neurological deception, or vice versa.
Despite being a romance of sorts, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is more concerned with the cerebral aspect of how love is perceived and created. Although it still inevitably plays a part in Marta’s obsession, the heart is not of great concern. Stork’s performance and Horvát’s direction are both intentionally frigid and cryptic, highlighted when Marta is stalking János, watching from a distance, but without a telling leer.
Through it all, she remains interestingly composed. And on account of the filmmaker’s muted direction, the movie is gently paced and solemnly told, with riveting allusions to the complexities fueling Marta’s obsession. Róbert Maly’s remarkable cinematography helps establish the staidness of Marta’s obsession through lurching camera movements and the vulnerabilities of the character through close-up.
Marta’s psychologically distressing journey leads to a conclusion that feels out of sync with the rest of the film, especially considering how incredibly textured and equivocal the previous minutes were. That being said, the rudimentary ending is still able to be questioned, though it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Throughout the movie, you ask what is at fault: Marta’s brain or heart? Lili Horvát’s Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is a sober and guileful meditation on love, obsession, and perception.
"…Stork's performance and Horvát's direction are both intentionally frigid and cryptic..."