‘Preparations to Be Together’ Review: Mysteries of Love

“Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time,” the second feature by the Hungarian writer-director Lili Horvat, considers the slippery relationship between consciousness and desire with a poignant hypothetical: what if you fall so hard for someone that you convince yourself they love you back? At the shattering of such an illusion is where we meet Marta (Natasa Stork), an accomplished, 40-year-old neurosurgeon who hastily leaves behind her life and career in the U.S. to reunite with the man she loves. Yet when she arrives at their agreed-upon meeting point — the Pest end of Budapest’s Liberty Bridge — Janos (Viktor Bodo) is nowhere to be found. And when she tracks him down at the nearby medical institute, he claims to not know who she is.

Horvat’s subversive portrait of obsession flips the femme fatale trope on its head by taking the enigmatic woman’s point of view. A noirish psychodrama simmering with ambiguities, the film cleverly toys with our perception by loosening our heroine’s grip on reality. Steely, self-possessed Marta is riddled with doubt over whether she is either the victim of gaslighting or legitimately insane. Summoning these ideas against a clinical backdrop, Horvat upends the glib notion of “a woman’s intuition.”

Refusing to give up on Janos, Marta joins the surgical team at a hospital, and undergoes therapy in an attempt to find an explanation for her woes. Like a detective, she observes Janos by attending the same events, all while tolerating the advances of an obstinate medical student (Benett Vilmanyi). Is she behaving in a manner similarly hopeless and deluded as this young man?

Shot in 35 millimeter by the cinematographer Robert Maly, “Preparations” manifests its protagonist’s uncertainty through fluttering reflections and slinky shadows, and images that conceal and obscure the full picture. An evocatively romantic moment in which Janos, remaining always on the opposite side of the road, follows Marta home, anchors the film’s ethereal sense of longing. And later, a tryst in Marta’s unfurnished apartment exudes the eeriness of a vividly realistic dream.

Here, the absence of evidence and witnesses is less an erotic thrill than a point of despair.

Marta is an expert in treating diseases affecting the human brain, yet Horvat understands that even the most sophisticated calculus is ill-equipped to interpret the mysteries of desire. After all, love itself may be a kind of neurological disorder.

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time
Not rated. In Hungarian and English, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters and on Film Forum virtual cinema. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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