Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, on OVID.tv

Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, whereas New Jersey is New Jersey. Yet, apparently, the Garden State is still a preferable place to practice neurosurgery, because of the superior equipment and working conditions. Nevertheless, Dr. Marta Vizy moves back to her native Hungary, to pursue a relationship with her lover, fellow neurosurgeon Janos Drexler. However, Dr. Drexler claims to have no memory of Vizy in Lili Horvat’s Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, which premieres tomorrow on OVID.tv.

As soon as she arrived, Vizy was supposed to meet Drexler at the Pest side of the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, but he no-shows. Of course, they were too passionate to do anything mundane, like exchange numbers, but she quickly tracks him down at the university hospital. When he denies all memory of her, it cuts the ground out from under Vizy’s feet—almost literally. She nearly returns to America, but instead, she stays, joining the staff of the hospital, where Drexler now only occasionally consults. Not surprisingly, the Budapest neurosurgery community is rather small, so their paths soon cross professionally. At first, it is understandably awkward, but it becomes increasingly less so over time, in hard to define ways.

Some descriptions suggest
PTBTFAUPOT is some kind of noir thriller in the Cornell Woolrich tradition, but Horvat decidedly does not take the film in that direction. The periodic scenes of Vizy analyzing her situation during counseling sessions might suggest a Joanne Woodward-style mental heath awareness drama, but Horvat’s approach is too subtle and refined to serve as a mere PSA. Instead, she leans into ambiguity and takes inspiration from her characters’ vocation, inviting viewers to embrace our absolute inability to know another person’s mind.

That can be frustrating, but Horvat’s artistry is impressive. Robert Maly’s cinematographer is striking and the classical soundtrack gives the film a refined vibe, not unlike some of the finest films from Claude Sautet. Horvat often deliberately keeps viewers at arm’s length, but her style keeps us watching.

Natasa Stork’s reserved lead performance certainly does not pander to middlebrow audiences either, but again, the discipline and integrity of her work are impressive. Ironically, Viktor Bodo’s portrayal of Drexler really is key to the film, because he makes the neurosurgeon sympathetic, even when we’re not sure whether we can believe him.

Although Horvat shows some of the less touristy areas of Budapest, she still fully capitalizes on the city’s scenic possibilities. This film is definitely for high-end cineaste audiences, but its craftmanship should be evident to all. Recommended for those who appreciate European art cinema,
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time starts streaming tomorrow (11/30) on OVID.tv.