Credit: TIFF
by Daniel Gorman Featured Film Horizon Line

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time | Lili Horvát

January 21, 2021

Preparations is a major discovery, its distinct character recalling nothing less than the works of Abbas Kiarostami, Christian Petzold, and Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time opens with a grand romantic gesture. After 20 years in the United States, Dr. Marta Vizy (Natasa Stork) has returned to Budapest to meet the love of her life on the Liberty Bridge. She knows it’s crazy; they’ve only met once, at a medical conference in New Jersey, but she’s almost 40 and can’t deny the connection she felt. Marta abandons her job and friends and impulsively hops on a plane, checks into a hotel, puts on makeup, practices her smile, strolls over to the appointed time and place and… no one is there. Flustered, she decides to track down her beau, Dr. Janos Drexler (Viktor Bodo), at the local hospital. She confronts him, demanding to know why he didn’t keep their date. He stares at her, apologizes, and says that he has no idea who she is. She simply must have him confused with someone else. But what begins as a simple case of he said/she said, with Marta earnestly investigating the possibility that Janos has simply forgotten her due to a mental malfunction, becomes complicated by her eventual admission that she has romantic fantasies. Gradually, writer-director Lili Horvát allows that subjective uncertainty to seep into and destabilize the narrative, making her second feature a deeply strange, totally beguiling investigation into love as neurological phenomenon (or disorder).

Horvat is playing a fascinating game here, as if presenting the viewer with an underdetermined set of algebraic equations. Is Janos lying? If so, why? Or is Marta so desperate for a connection that she has made it up, willing it into existence (something she admits has happened before)? In some respects, the film is a character study of a profoundly unknowable person. Stork plays Marta like an alien who’s just begun trying on human emotions for the first time, and her performance is fascinatingly implacable, and the quotidian quality of the film’s formal construction belies just how deeply subjective an experience it is. One thinks of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, another film that turned narrative gamesmanship into a deeper consideration of how we construct relationships. It’s almost a disappointment when Horvat finally reveals the film’s secrets, giving the mystery a definitive reading, until one realizes that the film’s unwieldy title is actually referring to its cryptic ending. Critic Jake Cole has compared Preparations to Christian Petzold’s “anti-erotic thrillers,” as well as Kieslowski “in the way its ambiguity is manifested as a strange game.” The estimable Amy Taubin suggests that it is “not simply a romance between two people, but with consciousness itself” and that it “turns Vertigo inside out.” Bold claims, for sure, but Preparations earns them. It is a major discovery.

Originally published as part of TIFF 2020 — Dispatch 2.