Though its (very cumbersome) title suggests that Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time may be an oh-so-timely film about love in lockdown, this Hungarian romantic mystery could not be further removed from being a ‘COVID movie’. Here is a story of spontaneity and international travel, set in a city full of promise and excitement as a deeply odd yet affecting romance blossoms between two neurosurgeons who haunt Budapest like ghosts.
We first meet Marta Visy (Natasa Stork) on a plane from New Jersey to Hungary, having just made a bold, perhaps cataclysmic, life decision. She met fellow Hungarian Janos Drexler (Viktor Bodo) at an American medical conference, where the pair struck up such an immediate connection that they promised to meet each other at Budapest’s Liberty Bridge one month later without so much as exchanging phone numbers. So Marta leaves behind her high-flying career and American friends to find Janos, yet, when they ‘reunite’, Janos claims to have never met Marta in his life.
There’s an entrancing dreaminess to every scene in Preparations, Marta chasing Janos through quiet, gorgeously shot streets. She rents a shabby apartment far below her price range just to be able to look at Liberty Bridge from her window, and the green of the bridge starts seeping into the rest of her life. You’re never quite sure if what you’re witnessing is fully real or a product of a delusion. Writer-director Lili Horvat finds beauty and strangeness in every shot, from oddly angled close-ups to dancing shadows on the stairwell of the hospital at which Marta takes a job.
Horvat also avoids the cliches of cinematic obsession – Marta’s advances towards Janos are weird, but not unwelcome, and she keeps her career on track, impressing the local doctors immensely with her surgical capacity and serving her patients with skill and empathy. Eventually, she even earns an obsessor of her own – the son of a patient whose life Marta saved, and for a time two unrequited loves run in a sad but satisfying parallel as all involved attempt to work out what they really want from life and love.
As an allegory for the impossible risk of love and relationships, Preparations can be hard to fully decipher, especially in its abrupt and ambiguous ending, but the rich atmosphere and steely yet layered performances keep you hooked. Unhurried and confident, Preparations marks Horvat out as a thrilling new European talent, someone who can find ways to make the cities of the continent feel brand new.