A muted and ambiguous portrait of obsession, “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Time” is a Hungarian film as coolly cerebral as its title, to the point where a viewer might get freezer burn. Writer-director Lili Horvát, whose second feature this is, has previously worked as a casting director, and by far her new film’s strongest asset is lead actress Natasa Stork, playing a tightly wound woman whose grip on reality is loosening.
Stork’s character, Marta, is a neurosurgeon who has made her career in the United States and who, in the film’s opening scenes, has returned to Budapest to join Janós (Viktor Bodó), the man she met and fell in love with at a recent medical conference. Marta waits for him at the assigned meeting place, Liberty Bridge on the Pest side of the Danube. Janós doesn’t show. She tracks him down at the medical facility where he works. He claims to have never seen her before.
Who’s out of kilter here, Marta or the rest of the world? “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Time” keeps the matter unsettled for almost the entirety of its running time and even then leaves a great deal hanging in the air, literally and otherwise. Horvát is more interested in following her poised, shell-shocked heroine as she settles into a new life in a city both familiar and alien to her, hoping for the mystery to be solved and for Janós to recognize her. Easily getting a job at a local hospital, where her superior surgical skills draw the jealousy of peers and the romantic attentions of a young medical student (Benett Vilmányi), Marta keeps her focus on winning Janós either back or for the first time. To the question of whether she’s lovelorn or delusional, the film seems to answer “Why not both?”
As the object of desire, Bodó is intentionally obscure, if affable and even intrigued by his attractive stalker. “Preparations” rests almost entirely on Stork’s shoulders, however. Rarely showing any emotion aside from mild concern, the actress suggests a maelstrom of emotions lurking beneath the skin of this tidy, chic medical professional. The one scene in which those emotions are released is startling in its eroticism, but the filmmaker lets the temperature quickly cool down in favor of a dramatic resolution that doesn’t resolve very much. If that’s the intent, you may also find it hard to care by then. “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Time” is a lovely visit to a Budapest that yields its secrets more willingly than the sad, repressed woman at the story’s center.
PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN TIME
Written and directed by Lili Horvát. Starring Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó, Benett Vilmányi. Virtually screening via the Coolidge Corner Theatre, www.coolidge.org. In Hungarian, with subtitles. 95 minutes. Unrated (as R: graphic surgery images, nudity, sexual situations).