Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (4 stars)

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Hungarian director Lili Horvát is behind this intoxicating mystery, starring Natasa Stork

'I wanted something so bad, that I forgot that I dreamed up the whole thing, and I lost myself in it,' Márta Vizy (a superb Natasa Stork) tells her therapist, as she describes an old episode in her life, which has her questioning her current sanity. This strange and potentially unreliable protagonist is our guide through a fascinating, moodily shot mystery from Hungarian writer-director Lili Horvát that maintains an air of intrigue and unpredictability as it evokes the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Christian Petzold and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

The 40-year-old Márta makes for a wonderfully enigmatic focus – this celebrated neurosurgeon arrives in her former home city of Budapest after two decades in the US. She's impulsively jacked in her life to pursue a romance with a fellow Hungarian surgeon, János Drexler (Viktor Bodó), who she met at a conference in America and fell hard for. She's agreed to meet János on the Liberty Bridge at 5pm on a specified date; when he doesn't show, she tracks him down to the hospital where he works but, after being confronted, he devastatingly claims not to know her. Undeterred, Márta stays in the city, renting a shabby flat that overlooks her beloved bridge and taking up a post at a less-than-state-of-the-art hospital, to the bafflement of her former professor (Andor Lukáts).

Despite Márta's stalker-like tendencies (she follows János around a lot, though does eventually pique his interest), this lonely and lovelorn character is sympathetically portrayed by Stork. She rarely seems wholly present, often sporting a faraway look in her eyes. Meanwhile, her altered accent, lack of connections and alien professional methods have rendered her a foreigner in her own city. There's also an old-fashioned glamour to her style, with her hair set in loose, 50s-esque waves, enhancing the film's retro feel and her own out-of-placeness.

As Horvát interrogates Márta's obsession, she highlights how hard it is not to project onto others our own assumptions, feelings and ideals (a young medical student admirer of Márta's, played by Benett Vilmányi, has a similar problem). The film drip-feeds us details; it's not easy to anticipate where it will take us next, and it's all the better for it, but nor is it something that's planning to leave us flailing around in the dark. Horvát keeps the viewer expertly aligned with her protagonist, as both us and Márta wonder if it's all in her head.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 19 Mar.

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • Hungary
  • 1h 35min
  • Directed by: Lili Horvát
  • Written by: Lili Horvát
  • Cast: Andor Lukáts, Attila Mokos, Benett Vilmányi, Júlia Ladányi, Linda Moshier, Natasa Stork, Péter Tóth, Réka Pelsöczy, Viktor Bodó, Zsolt Nagy
  • UK release: 19 March 2021

Marta, a neurosurgeon, leaves her successful career in America behind to return to Budapest to pursue a relationship. But, when she meets her partner, he claims that they've never met before.