Truth and Movies

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

Lili Horvát

Starring

Benett Vilmányi Natasa Stork Viktor Bodó

Anticipation.

Great title, and the premise sounds intriguing.

Enjoyment.

It’s a thrill to watch Natasa Stork oscillate between unmovable physical presence and ethereal ghost.

In Retrospect.

Echoing its clashing tones of red and blue, this is an unexpectedly warm film with a chilling premise.

With her second feature, Hungarian writer/director Lili Horvát delivers a suspenseful elliptical thriller.

We all have experienced that unsettling feeling of walking into a room and immediately forgetting what brought us there. We are briefly filled with a profound terror as the very fabric of our lives seems to unravel. The sequence of events and choices that have led us, not only to this room but to be who we are, suddenly vanish and are all but forgotten.

Hungarian director Lili Horvát takes this frightening sensation and expands it into a lasting state of being in her second feature, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time. Natasa Stork plays Márta, an accomplished neurosurgeon who, now in her forties, decides to leave her prestigious American career behind and follow the Hungarian doctor she met at a conference back to Budapest.

They are in love, and she has already given too much of her time to her career. Fresh off the plane and with a spring in her step, she goes to their agreed meeting place. When he doesn’t show up, Márta visits him at the hospital where he works. Seeing him walking out of the building, she goes to greet him, but he claims not to recognise her, tells her they’ve never met, and walks away.

It is an undeniably playful and suspenseful premise, guaranteed to keep viewers on their toes. But rather than follow a conspiratorial path into the topic of gaslighting – so topical, so exhausting – Horvát opts for a more internal and poetic journey, one which ultimately tells us a lot more about “the way we live now” than a story about a man making a woman go insane by making her believe she is acting strange.

Stork’s bright and clear face, a small polite smile perpetually on her lips, is in a medical context the image of scientific precision, a reassuringly imperturbable visage to see when awaiting a potentially life-threatening diagnosis, as several characters do in the film. But when she is alone, in the streets of Budapest or in the dilapidated flat she has rented, Márta’s stillness comes to suggest a person completely detached from her surroundings and isolated in her loneliness. In those moments, her romantic obsession with this elusive man begins to look like the irrational fantasy of a person so dissatisfied and alone that she mistakes her dreams for reality.

In following a character who might be seeing things, Horvát brings our attention to the way cinema itself creates meaning through images, and she uses this ability to make the reality of what we are seeing uncertain to the end. The film’s elliptical editing compresses time in such a way that it is impossible to know for sure how long the man might have been staring at Márta, how long he might have been away, or how many times he may have looked at her through the crowd, from across a busy room. Perhaps in her mind, Márta herself is editing a series of meaningless moments into a more meaningful whole.

In any case, what we do see are very romantic scenarios and Horvát, instead of staying at a cold, analytical distance from her agonised character, infuses the film with the emotions that the woman feels, even with sensuality. As Márta and the mysterious doctor continue to interact (or do they?), the director allows her protagonist’s longing for this stranger, whether real or imagined, to shine through. Far from a humiliating and cruel character assassination, this film is a study of the limits of perception that is tender and unsettling in equal measure.

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is released digitally on 19 March.

Published 18 Mar 2021

Tags: Lili Horvát Natasa Stork Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Anticipation.

Great title, and the premise sounds intriguing.

Enjoyment.

It’s a thrill to watch Natasa Stork oscillate between unmovable physical presence and ethereal ghost.

In Retrospect.

Echoing its clashing tones of red and blue, this is an unexpectedly warm film with a chilling premise.

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